Roving thoughts and provocations

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A Year in Fragments

Thomas Hoepker/Magnum Photos
Aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Coney Island, New York, 2012

On my walk this afternoon, I saw a store window full of manicurists at work, a green grocer on a sidewalk watering his tomatoes and peppers with a hose, and a pharmacist sell with a wink something to an old man.

He was writing a ballet for the radio, or did I hear that wrong in that noisy restaurant?

Fifty years ago washing still hung from fire escapes on the East Side. Neighbors sat on the stoops chatting amiably on hot summer nights and bored boys threw cats from rooftops to pass time. Writers and poets, destined to remain obscure, wrote feverishly while everyone else slept and black barges glided on the East River taking loads of garbage out to sea.

I have a drawer full of dead watches, some of them belonging to my late parents and the others mine, which I could not bring myself to throw out over the years and which I look at and touch at least once a year.

A huge stone Buddha from India enduring with an embarrassed smile the indignity of being photographed at a Chicago museum with a bunch of unruly high school kids, one girl with purple colored hair and a ring in her nose even going so far as to climb into his lap and wrap an arm around his shoulder as if he were a boyfriend or beloved uncle.

A bare room for rent with plenty of sunlight and a fly on the ceiling to keep one company.

“Jesus is a gun being fired” on the wall of a trailer in Alabama.

“Are there more idiots in the world today percentagewise than in some earlier ages?” asks Teofil Pancic, a columnist for Belgrade’s weekly Vreme. His answer is that it only seems so, because today they are more visible, more audible, and, of course, connected by the Internet. In the past, he wittily observes, everyone was his own idiot, isolated not only from the rest of mankind, but also from his fellow idiots, so that when something stupid occurred to him, there was no chance of it instantly becoming known to idiots in Tasmania and Uzbekistan.

WANTED: Underwater fire-eater looking for a tantric dancer to join him on the bottom of the sea and blow some soap bubbles with him.

They renovated the seedy block of small, poorly-lit shops with their dusty displays of love bracelets, nose rings, tarot cards, and sticks of incense where many years ago I saw a young man with blood on his white shirt blow soap bubbles on the sidewalk, his face pinched and troubled save when he filled his cheeks with air.

Her life, she said, was an out-of-tune piano played with passion.

This evening I sat listening to five presidential candidates offering their imaginary solutions for a country that doesn’t exist.

“Imaginary maladies are much worse than the real ones, because they’re incurable,” an old friend who walks with difficulty was telling me.

Hurricane Sandy battering our house was like being inside a submarine that sounded like a freight train.

Much of what our eyes see and our ears hear is lost in translation.

Past a torched car, the broken refrigerator, and piles of rusty appliances, we ran holding hands toward a field covered with flowering weeds.

“When Alfred snored he woke the dead.” I’d like to see that on his gravestone.

“An alarm clock with no hands, ticking on the town dump,” is how he described himself.

Nudes in a museum give the impression that they like to be looked at both by lone men and by large groups of people. It’s as if they stick their boobs out farther, let their fingers wander down to their crotches a bit more. Only the guards, I notice, keep their eyes lowered as if the women we are ogling are their wives and daughters.

There’s nothing more lewd than the mind of a prude.

This cockroach running up the kitchen wall in a big hurry must have just peeked at its watch.

In ages past when the royal ministers and astrologers wrongly predicted the outcome of some military campaign and lead the country into catastrophe, they were publicly tortured and executed. In our days, they continue to be regarded as foreign policy experts and appear regularly on TV and in op-ed pages peddling disastrous new policies for the nation.

There’s nothing more boring in all of creation than a poet who tells the reader that he’s writing a poem, that he is using words.

In a crowded window of an antique store, among Chinese porcelain vases and mantle clocks, is an oil painting in a heavy ornate frame of some battle fought in the Napoleonic wars. Its cannons are still coughing fire, the cavalry charging with flags flying through black smoke, trampling on dead and wounded men writhing in agony, or lying about peacefully on this hot and humid New York morning, the street empty save for a garbage truck making brief, wheezy stops and annoying a few pigeons.

They gave the nice old gentleman I met at the bake sale several medals for the misery he caused in some country that no one could find any longer on the map.

We ought to put up a sign, “Free Drumming Lessons,” my wife says, to advertise the woodpecker in our yard that has been driving us nuts.

A homeless man, bare to the waist in the summer heat, strumming an air guitar as a boy and a girl pass by smooching.

Having nothing to say to her, he made a paper airplane. It flew around her pretty head and fell into her bowl of pea soup.

I bet all our elected representatives in Washington spend a great deal of time in front of mirrors admiring themselves. They lift their noses and chins, stare straight ahead without moving an eyebrow or a muscle, then nod their heads gravely and smile to themselves as they go out to meet the people.

He sat on a bench in Washington Square Park whispering something extremely confidential to his dog, who sat before him with ears perked, wagging his tail cautiously from time to time.

The waiter’s name was Dracula—or it should have been. He brought me two pieces of badly burnt toast on a white plate.

Come to think of it, I once saw a man in full Indian costume, feathers and all, crossing 8th Avenue and 38th Street at five in the morning eating a slice of pizza.

A long night of tossing and turning in a hotel bed, unable to fall asleep. Meanwhile, in the next room, a couple who had come in late couldn’t stop laughing about something for what seemed like hours. Every now and then, I wanted to get up, bang on the wall and make them stop, but was afraid they’d fall silent and leave me alone with my thoughts.

Inflicting pain on the weak is the aphrodisiac of the powerful. Every informed person in the United States knows that Social Security is solvent and will remain solvent for decades. The only reason our President and our two political parties want to tinker with it is to please the sadists among their wealthy contributors for whom their money and power bring no happiness as long as the poor, the sick, and the elderly among us are not completely destitute.

The crosses all men and women must carry through life are even more visible on this dark and rainy November evening.

My life is as real as yours, said the cricket in the thicket as night fell.

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