Sunday, July 11, 2010

Something Awful

Record heat wave in New York! A vestige of royalty visits Ground Zero! Mexicans everywhere! Last week I'm on the train again, in the hot morning, waiting in an air conditioned car while another car pulls up across the platform, passes. Unjostled, my pen makes nervous aimless sour blue marks. What happened to Les Misérables? I "took a break" and started reading blogs again at work--"blogs" being "everything"--on-line magazines, first paragraphs of boring essays, books reviews, even public comments. I have fallen. Why? Just gravity? Or something mechanical? There I was, hewing to the confines of my snake hole, when someone took the soil away. Bare air, aimless pointless tepid, full of fluff and dropped apostrophes. I feel undefended from the voices of the living.

On Saturday I have dinner, out of guilt, with my downstairs neighbor, she's 83 or some years old. We go to the Mexican restaurant nearby where all the Mexicans go and I'm in a bad mood. I observe myself enduring another conversation about skin cancer. Then it's on to chimpanzees and inevitably we discuss the one in Connecticut that bit a woman's face and hands off. It occurs to me that all old people must have discussed this story repeatedly and at length. It's one they've got memorized. It's one that got through. They find significance in it. What is this significance? What are old people trying to teach us when of all the stories out there this is one they pick to tell and tell again? Do they think it was an omen? Did they detect some kind of warning in it when it happened that they're trying to get someone to heed?

I try to put myself in her shoes--their shoes--those of all the old men and women who keep the stories, the oral traditions, the gatekeepers of narrative merit and meaning who have determined that the lady, her face and her friend's chimp make the cut. With them, I nod my approval over the elements here combined: horror and bloodshed being given, there's so much more. Connecticut real estate. Enormous incisors. First responders struck faint and aghast. Echoes of "African" savagery. White women being foolish, vainglorious, brave. Diapers, drugs, red wine and comeuppance. Yes, I suppose there were many transgressions here.

I tell my neighbor, just to add to the horror, I don't really recall the details, I think the cops had a problem--but I tell my neighbor over dinner that they couldn't tell, when they saw the woman on the ground, was she human? Or another animal? My neighbor shudders. "Because without our skins we look like animals," I say. For what? Why am I being so unpleasant? Just because tejano music stinks? Because this heat wave is too hot and long? I should have asked her then, Why again with the Connecticut chimp rampage? It's like a code I'm not in on; like a key to confidences rich in meaning but slipped into my sweaty palm it's nothing but an object I can't recognize. It only puzzles and annoys me. "Oh that stupid chimp story again! What do they see in it!" It makes me mad at her.

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