ArchivesSite MapSubmitOur GangContact UsHot Sites
1983-2015
tearing the rag off the bush again
New York: Conversations Over Stolen Food PDF E-mail

2:26 p.m. Thursday, January 12, 2008
Union Square Park

A: [Garbled] sign says the lawn’s getting seeded for grass now. Pigeons and sparrows seem to be ignoring that.

J: Yeah they’re gobbling up the grass-seed. And some anxious squirrels appear to be searching for a misplaced acorn supply.

A: It’s bright but but I find it dreary. The weather shouldn’t be this way. I mean there’s room for statistical variation in temperature, but we have lost…

J: Well I imagine if we looked at the Times and consulted its weather section, we’d notice the record high took place in the twenties or thirties.

A: Oh no. That’s not true. The average global temperature’s broken records seven of the past ten years.

J: Really? [Pause] So you’re talking to Ron Padgett today about…

A: Yeah, at De Roberti’s pastry shop…

J: your research.

A: a classy choice on his part.

J: It’s one of your favorite places as well; you already have so much in common.

A: My my favorite intimation of infinity is eating a napoleon on a summer, a hot summer night at De Roberti’s—with a glass of water and The Supremes in the background. This happened once, or I may be making it up, but I’ve taken solace from the moment ever since.

J: Do you know in some ways (since we talked later than ever last night, and today have to talk earlier than ever) I feel like we’ve been talking through the night?

A: I just slept and worked on my dissertation.

J: I didn’t have a chance to sleep. I thought your fan would bring uninterrupted quiet, but it agitated the cat and…

A: Was it the oscillations? Noise?

J: The cat didn’t sleep last night and kept me up for four straight hours…

A: Of…

J: if you can believe it…

A: No.

J: from five a.m. until nine.

A: Really.

J: I thought I’d open a screen and free the cat. But still I feel the sensation of of having talked through the night. Of course the setting’s different. We are not in your room. We’re out in the air…

A: I’m squinting.

J: again. I’m squinting in sun. That’s the starkest contrast from last night when I…when we weren’t squinting as we looked down at Monsignor McGolrick…

A: Wasn’t…

J: Park, which seemed to stretch on endlessly.

A: I especially like squinting so that front teeth hang from your top lip. Does that make sense? Your gums get extra oxygen. Your nose crinkles and looks cute in photographs; it’s both a squint and smile at once. It’s got a glinting quality much like this broken glass spreading in concentric circles—probably because we’re sitting with our backs to um what you thought was a Declaration of…

J: Yeah I didn’t get this statue’s title. Today we’re pressed for time. You need to meet Ron Padgett in an hour and I should head back to Brooklyn.

A: Do you feel prepared? For your big night?

J: Well I stopped by the, by a Duane Reade on 14th and asked the enormous sales-girl if she knew where condoms were: not wanting to ask directly about lube and…

A: Right.

J: found the Astro-Glide you recommended.

A: You hear, by the way, while we’re speaking, someone playing Led Zeppelin licks? [Pause] Hey la-dy…

J: That…

A: You know the…

J: I don’t know much classic rock. It separates me from most people our age.

A: Astro-Glide gives me what what I would call an unbearable pleasure if it didn’t last so long. I’m happy you can share in that.

J: The producer, the people who make Astro-Glide say it’s got an authentic wet…

A: Did did they say whether it’s ok to get on your mouth?

J: I…

A: [Muffled] dry lips in winter.

J: I didn’t read that far down the package. Do you notice sun glinting off strands of straw?

A: It’s great.

J: Isn’t that great? And I find the light, while much brighter than the street lamps and park lamps last night, to be much more hospitable. It causes me to squint but I can look endlessly.

A: You keep screening your eyes like you’re at the mast-head. I, I enjoy as well that it’s winter light. It’s not golden, nor does it really penetrate things. It sort of slides over them. I guess there’s less color out in winter, so it’s hard to know how this light would illuminate, say, a resplendent green park: the type which will stand here several months from now (though we’re impeding that by walking on grass-seeds). But I appreciate how the light warms buildings just…it doesn’t enhance colors but makes them distinct.

J: We’ve started a migration onto the field. [Muffled] pair of friends is coming our way.

A: Did you—the girl’s carrying a green water bottle. It’s some hi-tech plastic. Does…

J: They’re…

A: everyone under twenty-five own these bottles?

J: Yeah often they’re strapped to one of …

A: Right.

J: numerous straps dangling from backpacks. The bottles are called Nalgene bottles, which…

A: That’s a material? Nalgene?

J: I’m not sure if it’s material or if it refers to the company that manufactures them. So, ah yes…

A: The, the…

J: you were remarking on the difference between winter and summer light, and until today I’ve always looked for a…I’ve always erroneously looked for the difference in sky alone, thinking there’s paleness to the winter sky…

A: There may well be.

J: which doesn’t belong in summer. But I was…

A: I want to find out.

J: wrong. I never thought about the things that are lit. I mean clearly this grass is…

A: Beige.

J: Well yeah it’s the, it’s it’s non-existent. We’re looking at straw tossed over a field.

A: Quite a quite a thin toss as well.

J: And it’s obvious the difference in light has as much to do with things lit as…

A: Animals shed dark coats right? Or more vibrant coats? They try to blend in with snow. We ourselves tend to wear more grays, blues and…

J: Well I happen to wear those colors year-round since they’re the most commonly bought and resold hues.

A: Right um, before we leave the Astro-Glide topic: I recommend not applying it yourself.

J: Oh yeah. Why would I ever do that?

A: Um.

J: Yeah Amanda gave a call from Boston’s South Station, to where she’s just…to to where her commuter-train recently pulled…

A: What a…

J: Sure.

A: what delight to use the South Station commuter—that that part of South Station. In my early twenties I watched crowds…

J: She sounds excited to come back to the city. Last summer she stayed here for a week with friends.

A: Is this her first Fung Wah experience?

J: This is her first Fung Wah bus, yes. I’m the person who revealed Fung Wah to her. She had always taken Greyhound…

A: That’s what my…

J: which nowadays is at least twice as expensive as the Fung…

A: Well…

J: Wah. They’re no longer trying to push out their Chinese competitors.

A: I’m glad they didn’t succeed.

J: They’ve recognized Fung Wah’s inherent superiority and are once again charging outrageous prices.

A: Do you think Fung Wah will go go back to playing match-maker? Trying to seat single young men next to young single women, as it…

J: It was a great promotion, a great unadvertised…promotion. There were several rides from Boston to New York in which, from the moment I sat until the moment we pulled along the curb at Canal (139 Canal Street) I talked nonstop with a pretty girl. Some conversations continued along city sidewalks, and I still see one woman now and then.

A: Are you terribly uncomfortable?

J: There’s something about this…

A: The relief sculpture on…

J: Yeah. Yeah.

A: the base of this monument’s hard to cozy up to.

J: It’s jutting into my lower back. I—again that’s a contrast from last night. Last night we sat in those chairs I hauled dozens of, at least a dozen blocks to the N-R station once, and carried all the way to where you lived in Astoria Queens. Remember?

A: Sure I…

J: I presented…

A: It was a nice gift, yeah: an early Ikea model that’s been complimented by both professional designers…

J: Right.

A: who have graced my room.

J: That’s right.

A: We seem to be lodged against a mythi…an allegorical figure holding an infant (star-haloed) up to the sun. I guess it’s our nation…

J: Yeah.

A: represented by a babe.

J: With the thirteen stars of the states encircling his head.

A: Do you think it’s intentional that of the um, I would guess 48 to 50 triangular stones on on which we could have placed our feet, that you’re on Massachusetts…

J: Hm.

A: and I’m on New Hampshire: a pleasant…

J: Yeah Alex and I did some filming for his movie in New Hampshire, though audiences believe it was shot in Minnesota.

A: You might…

J: I guess we’ll eliminate that.

A: No it’s…I just made eye contact with a Park—don’t look Jon—with a Parks Enforcement Officer.

J: Oh. Is he pulling out tickets?

A: Yeah but I don’t think, I don’t think they’re for us.

J: I, did he…is he giving those guys tickets?

A: Well they’re the ones yelling at him.

J: He just pulled out more tickets. He doesn’t seem to have enough tickets right now. Maybe he’ll give the Zeppelin guitarist a ticket for playing in public.

A: We could um, spin around to the opposite side of this statue—is he looking our…

J: No. He’s looking at the guitarist and a couple guys who might have been packing beers in a black duffle bag. [Pause] We could say we didn’t see the sign.

A: Yeah.

J: And…

A: Yeah…

J: apologize profusely.

A: I think there are only two signs in the park.

J: Then we ought to stay put. If we move it implies we’re guilty.

A: Right. He’d have to break the law to come…

J: I’m going to stop looking at him. He…

A: [Muffled] conflict of interest.

J: he looked up and saw I was looking at him.

A: Is that right? You’re doing it again.

J: I, yeah, I can’t stop. So um, it’s a nice site. Do you see that pigeon sleeping amidst incandescent strands of straw?

A: The little Brancusi over there? I do.

J: He is…he needs to take a nap after eating all that grass-seed.

A: Did did you not have lunch Jonny? In the checkout lanes I looked for…

J: No I’ve decided to stop eating at W.F. I think it’s at least partially responsible for my sickness. I hate cold food, and I hate—I detest cold food and I detest just as much eating food warmed in a microwave. That food has become inedible to me. [Dog barks] stayed in Brooklyn as long as possible, though I did walk around Washington Square before meeting you. I looked over those animal flash-cards you gave me last…

A: I’d love a brief quiz.

J: spring. Yeah we can…well I don’t have them on me, but I looked over a card for the brown bear.

A: You don’t remember questions?

J: Um, ok, I can ask a question: What is the largest brown bear?

A: The Alaskan Brown Bear?

J: The Kodiak.

A: Aren’t they the same?

J: Are they?

A: Kodiak did come to mind as well…

J: Ok…

A: and Kodiak Island.

J: It weighs over 700…

A: It used to. I think it’s lost weight since it no longer experiences—lots of screaming to our left now. I think that’s probably in our favor.

J: Yeah.

A: The greater the public disturbance…

J: Oh. Oh.

A: the less a concern our mild…I wanted to say truancy (using it in an abstract way) but I guess that’s not…

J: You could call it a minor transgression.

A: Transgression.

J: We’re lodging poetry where it ought to be, right? In the realm of minor transgression? But here’s another question about the brown bear: Does it have good vision?

A: [Pause] No.

J: Ok…

A: Scent.

J: Right…

A: Great scent.

J: and and…

A: Hearing.

J: Very good. Its senses of smelling, its senses of smell and hearing are…

A: Tremendous.

J: its most powerful senses. So when when I walked through Washington Square Park I pretended I was a brown bear. I paid little attention to what I could see and tuned into sounds and smells. Thanks to this metamorphosis I made a delicate auditory observation.

A: Which was?

J: There was a saxophonist playing in one corner of the park, and a trumpet player about fifty yards south, and listening to the saxophonist I couldn’t hear the trumpet player, but then I started walking towards the trumpet player, and at around the midpoint of the distance separating them I heard the trumpet blend harmoniously with the saxophone…

A: Right.

J: rhythms. I stood there listening. I then continued walking towards the trumpet…

A: Um…

J: and the saxophonist—I lost the saxophonist, but still…

Parks Enforcement Officer: You guys have IDs?

J: What’s that?

P: I got to see your IDs.

J: Why would…

P: Because you’re on Union Square’s lawn. You’re not supposed to be on the lawn.

A: Oh.

J: I didn’t know that.

A: Yeah we didn’t know.

P: Well I need to see some ID.

J: Oh my.

A: How would, how would we sense we couldn’t be here?

P: Excuse me?

A: How, how—is it always the case? How would we…

P: Always. There’s signs all around this park.

J: Well we didn’t see any signs. We came right…

A: Where are the signs?

J: What…[Tape stopped] though I guess we can talk for now…

A: I can’t believe you stopped the tape. He’s he’s gathering other licenses as well.

J: Yeah the couple who followed us onto—sir, could we just leave?

P: Hmm?

J: Can we leave?

P: After I write y’all a summons.

J: A summons?

A: But how are…

J: Sir we didn’t see a sign. I mean…

P: Alright sir you can, you can fight this if you want to.

J: Can you just warn us and we’ll leave?

A: It’s not like you asked us to go and…

J: Off, officer please. [Officer radios headquarters; tape stopped]

A: …the worst: going to court again. It lasts all day.

J: So we have to to go and plead our innocence.

A: We can bring the tape recorder with us—at least redeem some…

J: The courthouse is near Kristin’s?

A: [Muffled]

J: Should we stand and gesture that we’re ready to go? We can pin the mic on your collar.

A: Sure. No, no let’s not do that.

J: Ok. We’ll just stick…[Tape stopped] Is there a fine officer?

P: Excuse me?

J: Is there a fine?

P: Yes.

A and J: How much?

P: Fifty dollars.

J: Fifty dollars. But we’ll plead our innocence and wait in line all afternoon, without…

P: What, to fight the ticket you mean?

A: Yeah.

J: Absolutely.

P: Well you can fight the ticket.

J: Yeah I’ll fight it. I’ll fight it with my dying breath.

P: Alright.

J: Do you understand how silly this is? I mean, we’re all…

Man from California: Yeah come on. How about you…

J: human beings; it’s the sunniest day…

M: give us a warning, and we’ll…

J: in winter. Just give us a warning.

P: Honestly speaking with you guys? Honestly speaking with you? This is not coming from me. This summons is about, this is over my head right here.

J: But we—over your head? Who’s…

M: Over your…

J: enforcing it?

A: [Muffled] screaming?

P: This is over my head right here: why I’m issuing you a summons. I could really care less about this right here.

J: Officer, you should…

M: Well then…

A: [Muffled]

J: let us go.

M: Yeah.

J: It’s your decision.

P: Let you go?

M: Because…

P: My superior’s here.

J: No he’s not.

P: What do I need to lie for? [Silence]

J: Where is he? We should talk with…

M: Yeah let’s talk with him.

A: [Muffled]

J: Let’s talk with your superior.

M: Can you still make…

Woman who lives in London: No.

J: Could you please radio him over, so we can talk? I mean we’re…it’s it’s sunny. We came out to celebrate the lunch hour. We’re busy industrious New Yorkers, and the last thing we need to do is waste an entire day in in court pleading our innocence with our dying breaths. I think we should all just laugh about this. If you ever see us again on the lawn of course arrest us. [Pause] It would be great to talk with your superior.

W: God I have to get going. [Muffled] no just leave that…

P: I got to issue these tickets. It’s automatic since I started writing. I guess you don’t believe me.

J: It’s, but is that something you’re inflicting on yourself, or is it honestly coming from above?

P: Seriously? Honestly? I could care less about this right here.

A: [Muffled] so far with the mic.

J: But most…

W: At least let me come in on Monday.

J: people…

W: Dude, I just…

M: Look we’re not even from New York. Why do you need to give us tickets? We’ll never be back here. We…

P: [Sighs] Alright so don’t pay it then. So don’t pay it.

M: Well can I have my ID then?

P: You’re gonna get it back. Just wait…

M: Let me have it now. [Pause] Please?

J: He’s going to write you a ticket first.

M: That’s that’s good.

J: You’ll have a souvenir. Where are you two visiting from, California? I notice you have a California…

M: Yeah I’m from California. She lives…

W: I live in London.

J: Oh you live in London yeah?

M: She’s not even a citizen of the United States! Come on it’s…

A: I think you’re set. I think you ought to walk away fast.

W: He has my vi, he has my ID…

A: Oh. Then maybe…

W: and…

J: Don’t worry: I’m not going to litter officer. That’s that’s my cup. I…

P: You got a good personality, you know?

J: Well obviously it doesn’t, it’s not sufficient to get me out of a ticket. I guess the ID’s fake anyway. I could run…that’s a joke. That’s an authentic Missouri state-ID man.

A: This may push me to engage in um deviant behavior. If I’m going to get tickets I might as well do drugs or something.

J: So so many people doing drugs in this park. So many thefts and rapes going on…

P: So find ‘em for me, alright.

J: in this city.

P: So help me out.

J: What do you mean?

A: I—we’re too busy looking over our backs. We never know when a cop’s gonna nab us.

P: If there was so much drugs in this park then you wouldn’t be in the park. Why would you surround yourself around that?

A: It’s the only place with…

P: That’s a good question right?

A: open…

J: Officer I’m fiercely committed to my sobriety.

A: These parks are put here because we’re claustrophobic citizens cramped in offices and apartments all day long.

J: Where the climate’s the same every month of the year. It’s nice to to come out and experience—oh he, what is that, hair? Wait, brown? You see that? He noted you have brown hair.

P: It’s on your license.

J: His hair’s been lightening in the springtime sun. You may want to call it brown slash blonde. [Pause] What does the violation say Andy?

A: Park rules, Number 9.

J: What’s that little piece of prose?

A: Um: that it was found, or I guess I was found, on Union Square Park…

J: The fifth, the date of the hearing’s the fifteenth of February.

A: What’s today?

J: Today is the eleventh?

P: Twelfth.

J: The twelfth.

A: So that’s a Sunday? Saturday?

P: That’s a Wednes…

A: Oh, oh this is January. That’s right.

P: What he say?

J: I thought the hearing was the fifteenth of January (just a few days from now). So so we can go anytime before then?

P: It’ll probably be after the fifteenth.

A: How does that work?

J: What do you…

P: It has to be on a Wednesday. It depends on how crowded the courts are.

J: But can I go later next—can I go in next week and protest my ticket?

P: You can try but I doubt it.

J: Because I’m visiting New York and won’t be here.

P: Oh you’re not going to be there? [Pause] You really want to fight this ticket?

A: [Muffled]

P: What’s going to be your argument? I’m just, I’m curious…

A: We didn’t see a fence…

J: There’s no fence.

A: or a sign I mean.

P: There is a fence. You’re looking at the fence. The fence…

A: The sign—where’s the sign?

J: People sun themselves in this city by hopping over fences.

P: How do you know if you’re not from around here?

A: Is it only in spring that…

J: Because I used to live here. Now I’m visiting.

P: Then I’m sure you know there’s a sign.

J: There’s no sign.

P: Right there. Keep off lawn. There’s another one on that side: Keep off lawn.

J: Yeah two two two signs for…

P: Alright so that can be your argument. You want it to be your argument?

J: Yes exactly…

A: Do you recommend…do you know…

J: and I’m sure it will hold up.

A: any arguments…

P: That will hold up?

J: I’m sure it…

A: [Muffled] particularly successful?

P: Huh?

A: Do you have recommendations for our…

P: For your defense?

A: Yeah.

P: Well if I botched the summons; but I’m sure I didn’t.

J: I’m sure you didn’t.

A: The ticket looks clean.

P: Let me let me see your license.

A: Is there a mistake?

P: No there really ain’t no mistakes here.

J: Park rules. [Pause] Where’s the supervisor? It would be great to talk to him. Do do you know where…

P: You think I can just call my superior over to discuss this?

J: What, is your superior getting his jewels polished? Is he getting ten blowjobs as we speak or something? [Pause] I see so many people pulling flasks from duffle bugs. You’d think they’d get fines.

P: Hold on.

J: Did he make a mistake?

A: He just added to my license number.

P: No it wasn’t a mistake.

J: I think you’re free. That was a mistake.

P: It was not a mistake. [Police siren]

A: I bet our two friends are gonna get off.

J: Are you going to…

P: I’m not like that. My boss knows y’all here, so he’s going to expect me to come back with four summonses.

J: So you radioed before you wrote the tickets out?

P: He actually saw y’all before I saw you.

J: What are—really? Would he have come after us if we had run away? Oh well.

A: We we won’t get another ticket crossing this lawn to get back to sidewalk?

P: Alright, have a nice afternoon…

J: Ok.

P: and get that defense ready.

J: Well officer, I’m sure I’ll never make a defense. I’m also sure I’ll never mail anything in, and…

P: Go ahead.

J: thanks I’ll just recycle the ticket. [Pause]

A: He’s not the…

J: [Muffled] make 100 dollars off this ma manuscript someday, we can be honest and pay these tickets.

A: We could return the tape recorder at the end of January.

J: Supervisor my rear. Where’s the supervisor he’s talking about? I think the supervisor’s his fucking superego. I think the guy’s brainwashed.

A: I thought he was pretty low-key in fact. As soon as he began writing the summons, when it all became inevitable, I started to like him more. He…

J: Yeah, yeah but still…

A: seemed to not enforce law in any normative way. He…

J: He wasn’t…

A: was very pragmatic about it.

J: wasn’t spiteful.

A: Not in the slightest. I guess we…why don’t we sit Jon.

J: You don’t want to find some sun? I feel we might soon catch cold here.

A: I don’t know where else to…

J: The sun’s probably off limits, right? Everywhere in sun is illegal? We could…

A: There’s no reason for the continued defense.

J: Yeah I’m sorry. I’ll try to shed this…

A: How many tickets is that for you in New York? I think…

J: It’s my second.

A: this is my third.

J: Your third.

A: I don’t know if there’s a cumulative effect. On the back of the summons I saw something along those lines. I—it often happens on otherwise liberating days. I remember getting caught trying to sneak through a subway entrance at two in the morning with my bicycle, and just screaming at the cop. I kept calling him a hero and…

J: You were…

A: had no defense whatsoever. I was drunk actually. I’d been given free alcohol at some place where Ezra Sherman worked as bartender.

J: Right. Who’s now a DJ on Martha’s Vineyard?

A: Is that…

J: This is what Alex tells me.

A: The other ticket was with Alex (I’ll take the mic). We assumed you could drink alcohol from paper bags in public, since that’s what people always do, but when I explained this to the cop he called me a wiseguy. Now those were both typical cops: ruddy-faced white boys from the Bronx who who clearly thought I was the biggest fag. This guy was much cooler than that. He was…

J: He was a respectable guy. Well-disciplined. Fond of obeying an imaginary superior. Legible penmanship.

A: Nev…

J: Good sense of humor.

A: Never lost the relaxed timbre to his voice.

J: We’ve, we’re both starting to shiver; we need some sunlight. I can’t afford to get sick again.

A: Nor…[Tape stopped]

J: Yeah today’s conversation: phenomenologically it’s lasting much longer than usual. It’s it’s hard…

A: Let’s go east.

J: Yeah. It’s hard to—wow look at that. I’m glad that skateboard didn’t collide with us.

A: What about this bank? Maybe they have steps we could sit on.

J: We should make sure no grass-seed’s been planted. [Silence]

A: It sounded like we would’ve gotten away no problem, which is worth remembering. I’m not lamenting or…

J: Though apparently the supervisor had seen us.

A: The…

J: But the supervisor’s the man upstairs right? I think the supervisor’s the the the holy god, right? That woman has a microphone as well.

A: This bank is calling itself Maine for some reason: “Almost Maine.”

J: Well I’ll tell you, whenever we step outside W.F.’s predictable atmosphere we run risks.

A: Today I simply—are you worried about…

J: I’m going to stand.

A: flu from this bird feces?

J: Wow look at this. This is absolutely disgusting.

A: Today I was sloppy. I put half my lunch in a bag, or in my coat I mean, folded it over and paid for other stuff.

J: Really?

A: Yeah a shoddy, a shoddy move which should never have been attempted.

J: What did you stow away in your coat?

A: Tandoori chicken. Rolls.

J: [Muffled] go there after this and put an expensive hair-product inside my hat.

A: Yesterday—to get, or was it two days ago, to get our cold medication—what I did was, and you may want to try this with toiletries, was I brought a paper and folded things around it once in line: as if reading. Anything small and expensive…

J: Right.

A: It makes the newspaper strangely firm um, like cardboard, which is satisfying. [Pause]

J: So I was…

A: [Muffled] girl spilling coffee.

J: talking about this obser observation I made in Washington Square Park on the way over: how, equidistant from the saxophone and trumpet players, I heard their sounds fuse harmoniously.

A: Right, and I was going to say (just as the cop approached) that in the center of Union Square I’d sensed, earlier, before you brought it up, a very similar effect with the different sounds—the different gravelly urban-motion sounds coming from left and right. But I’m curious about your Washington Square Park experience.

J: I heard this convergence of sounds and felt like a brown bear. I noticed that, I noticed food smells on the breeze. People were eating lunch along…correspondingly, there was smoke along, there were more people than usual smoking cigarettes outside. So with my sense of smell I picked up aromas from styrofoam containers, and tobacco smells from dozens of cigarette brands. I (though my eyesight is weak as a brown bear) I saw, on on hexagonal paving stones, a pool of golden light nearly as bright as the sun itself. That was my experience as a…

A: So I’ll have my sense of smell back tomorrow? Is…

J: I never lost my sense of smell. We have two separate sicknesses.

A: I I’m very much enjoying the different paces at which these Union Square crowds move. Big shopping bags, which are always discouraging, but I like to see bodies balanced between two bags, plus…
 
< Prev   Next >