The train men call it “Grand Central Terminal”—for me, it is always Grand Central Station.
There are things I want to tell you about, events to report. And every story is a medium, painter’s gel for the colors of me to you, you to me, through a screen. We traffic, giving and receiving, in pixels and time. Even the newest keyboard is only as good as its operators: are we both here?
I’m writing this on a train into “the” city and a couple just sat with me here in my little blue vinyl four-seater and popped open two beers. Is drinking allowed on the train? Don’t they not know that beer smells like beer? I don’t mind that they didn’t ask me, and by that I mean I do mind, but to get in my little place and then tear into a couple of brews without so much as offering me one, it seems unseasonal.
They are acting like I’m not even here. And this is kind of our little cubby, if you see things that way. They are, unwittingly, stepping on my train time.
My lover and I were planning for the holidays last night. We both developed a distaste for the conversation and hung up. Earlier today I told Joel, a dear friend and an artist of gentle and poignant force in the studio, that during our talk, it felt like we had started to treat time like currency. He replied:
“There is something even worse. We treat currency like currency.”
Don’t we just. So here—give me the great gift of what Vonnegut once called something brand new and wonderful on the planet, your human attention. I will in turn wring what I can from these cubes of plastic into something that will touch you.
It’s about snow. It’s about spaces, tiny, insignificant, small and large as a big huge massive hulking cavernous unsmall thing.
Where to begin…how to approach you? What is the medium worthy of your attention? I thought of a few ways.
Can you call the Pope a “Grinch” and still feel good about your Mom looking down reading from daily mass in heaven? Probably not, which sort of shot down the premise for an article I was working on to talk about Friday’s papal chat on gay marriage.
It was predictable: he’d rather they didn’t. I bashed it, of course. “The Pope Who Stole Christians” had such a hit-gendering ring to it, too, but Mom would have been mortified. I don’t write for Mom, but hey, the Pope is the Pope. Or so I’ve heard more times than you need to know. I guess childhood reverence still holds some sway.
What different, other event stream can we commune on? I want to reach you.
Exploits and escapades, adventures in advanced folly from Whackboro Baptist Church tempted me for a little while, because there is a virtue in trafficking in the absurd. It makes a guy happy, really.
These folks have nothing if not wild, untamed zealotry, and you have to bow to that, even if only in gratitude for your hopefully lifelong innate sense of reasonable doubt. I love those little sign-holding hate mongers as if they were that moment when you realize there is no way the other people in the elevator didn’t hear you farting, even though you kind of thought it was going to come out quietly.
There it is: a big fart in a small place and what can we do? Smell’s gonna smell, haters gonna hate.
This couple is still ignoring me, drinking their beers, two feet from my nose. Live in New York? Make friends with proximity. They are so in my face and so far removed from me. Admittedly, I am not being the social windstorm you probably see me as. I’m nose down in my laptop, wearing all black with barbed wire wrapped around me, and a little sign that says “Fuck off!” taped to my forehead, but still.
I mean, they could at least try. Has nobody ever heard of leaving a bottle on the seat next to me and running away? I mean I would demur and refuse with a smile calculated to make them feel like the worthiest couple ever to offer a guy on a train a beer, but they’ll never know that, will they?
So back to the topic of finding a topic.
The latest atrocity just out from Big Pharma tempted me so hard that I did write it up. It is so sensitive that I had to do it in fairytale format. But that came out so great that I contacted my buddy Magaly to get her to illustrate it. It should be up soon with the words “Fairy Tale.” If you see it, I fully expect you to click on that rascal like it was a click-for-free-chocolate button and share that baby, too.
Yes, I want the planet to read me—of course, what do you think I am, a nun? But in this case, you have to read it. The wrongdoing is so insurmountably wrong that not writing it started to feel like complicity. People need to read that one.
But, if you are scouting around searching out wrongdoing as a medium for written conversation, look no further than food.
GMOs and the horrible drivel, the selling of prop 37 to Monsanto and the all-new sliminess of soy is so consistently sickening it almost aches. I was even briefly tempted toward alliteration, and I’m not having that. A follow-up article on the ten things you’ve got to understand about Monsanto and Big Agriculture loomed darkly in the mind, for a few evenings.
Surely, that one would write itself.
“Handy Cane, Today’s Guide to Choosing the Right Candy Canes for Your Tree,” came to visit as a potentially manageable food puzzle solving post, but it wasn’t cricket. Did I really want to rob you, dear reader, of the simple pleasure of cheaply-purchased spun sugar, and talk you into mail-ordering boutique confections from some four-person family firm of master candymakers in Upstate New York or Cape Cod?
Would it be worthy of my questionable typing prowess to steer you away from some red-and-white, barber-pole simple yumminess for your home decoration, or worse, have you feel the pang of unseen slave-wagers on every viewing of your forest-robbing Christmas Tree? Do I want this holiday to change its stripes? Nah.
It fell with the fake Lady Gaga interview onto the growing scrapheap of ideas unworthy of you, my reader.
Ok, I broke the ice with the couple—I asked them what their feelings were about candy cane politics. They confessed to having none. Now we are just people, less afraid of each other, more apt to, say, share a beer on a train ride.
None of the news bits I want to riff on seem good enough. I want to approach you with gold.
And who are you, anyway, to be pressing me to such neurotic filtering and unseemly self-censorship? I don’t even know you that well. You’re so quiet, it almost feels like a manipulation. I love you in pixel form, and yet you barely talk to me. So why am I still gagging for your approval? Love me or I’ll write again!
This writing stuff is odd, yet strange.
I looked on the headlines, Reddit, Newsvine. Ideas almost bloomed, inchoate, then receded fast as frightened rabbits.
The Tesla is something I still want to scribe about, what with its 400-miles-between-charges technology and heavy, batteries-between-the-wheels handling. It is the car of the future, poised to give the internal combustion engine a well-deserved kick in its thirsty face. Full marks to our current administration for funding that rascal.
But where to go with it? The article, I mean.
So here we are, you with a growing feeling that this particular post is headed over the falls in a barrel, minus the barrel, and me wondering if at some point I can close this laptop and get out of the train.We are in the long tunnel coming into Grand Central anyway.
Grand Central is, with the possible exception of London’s Piccadilly Circus, the very best-named train terminal ever on earth. If you haven’t read Mark Helprin’s A Winter’s Tale, than you might want to have a look. Part of the action in the book takes place in the Main Concourse at Grand Central, above and behind the massive-domed, cathedral-looking, galaxy-painted ceiling.
I don’t want to tell you what to do—but read it. It is one of the great American Novels. Seriously.
You can feel people’s pulses picking up as we close in on this enormous space. We all know we are growing into greater versions of ourselves, even if only for a little while. This place transports you, and transports you. It’s like the last few days before Christmas.
We are alive with life. We are a measure kinder, a tad tweaked, a little more highly strung, except without the kinder part. Electricity fills the train car as people rise way before we stop. There are things to be done. Everyone calibrates to their given tasks. You can feel it. The beer couple has vanished, lost and found in their city agenda.
“Please watch the gap between the train and the platform.” The announcement rings like an old granny with weathered hand, twelve tiny bracelets, grey hair, pillbox hat, taking care of you and expressing her love through concern, except that it doesn’t. This loving announcement, this form of “take care now” is simply the MTA covering its butt. Probably.
So, out of the tunnel and up. Up into the Main Concourse. I arrive there, my feet on the floor. This room is huger than God’s Fist. It is the size of everything, plus a little more. If anyone ever said to you “Yeah, I’ve been to Grand Central, it wasn’t so big,” they are a lying liar. Size is a condition created by what a thing is not as well as by what it is.
Surrounding territory, internal heft and density, contrast within self and presence are some of the elements of size. And Grand Central is huge. If your friend confines his definition of size to a tape measure and some numbers, well, he probably treats currency like currency, too. He should have the good fortune someday to talk with my friend Joel.
(I know I’m over-imposing hypotheticals here, but we are almost done, stay with me.)
The thing that happened, the thing I want to tell you about, is this: I got in there and there was this phone call. My lover, calling about our plans. A switch in the 12/27—12/30 window. She needed my understanding. I checked my mental pockets—they were overflowing with the stuff.
She was loving and mindful and it radiated through the phone. I dropped my black laptop case, breathing in her message and the room.
I breathed deeply. For a moment. Everything was alright.
And let me tell you something: it snowed. Right there, in that beautiful huge room. All over the walking-hurrying-tasking-working-touristing-busy-marveling-hugging-loving-eating-texting fleshmeadow of humanity.
It snowed all over us. Or it didn’t.
And the snowfall was Christmas Eve and it was your mom giving you a peanut butter and jam sandwich and it was sitting on your bike on top of that massive hill you pushed up and knowing full well you were in for a hell of a ride. It was God’s mercy in a surprisingly sweet tangerine. It was quieter than 10 monks on cushions and more secret than that time you stole money from your uncle’s bedside table.
That snowfall was life itself, my friend, it was your innate unstoppable charm meeting her reluctance and melting it effortlessly. It was Jack Mackerel the cat, chewing on your toes in the night time. It was an artful comic remark from a deathbed; it was a twinkle in diminished, dying eyes.
That snowfall was all of us, making our way through this winter circus. And it doesn’t matter if it did or it didn’t or if you believe me.
The important thing here is, I am telling you, it snowed.
That and guess what?
I love you. Merry Christmas—let’s pray for snow.
Ed: Bryonie Wise
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