Thursday, it became clear to me that I needed to sift through my belongings. I will be leaving New York City in less than two weeks, and I need to get rid of or give away anything I won’t need. I didn’t have to work and I had nowhere to be, so Thursday was a perfect day to get it done, or at least set aside any clothing I wouldn’t be taking with me. But shortly after realizing it was a good day to do so, I glanced over at the dresser, thought about going through it, then resumed what I’d been doing before I had the realization – staring dumbly into the computer, drinking coffee. After enough of that, I glanced over at the dresser again, then played my guitar. The dresser stood in front of me, like a hulking, wooden audience who looked unimpressed, in fact, looked as if it had died as a direct result of listening to me. With an encore obviously not needed, I put up my guitar, looked at the dresser again, then thought about eating. Finally – after not eating – I went to the wooden cadaver, opened the drawer that was home to all my t-shirts.
Most of the t-shirts were old, frayed at the neck and arms. Many sported little tiny holes, and some I could easily pull apart with my hands. Most of them could be thrown away, I only needed two or three at most to work in or wear at bar-b-ques. However, as I went through them, I noticed that deep within the fibers of each worn garment was a memory, and the shirts, together, created an image representing much of the ten years I’ve lived in New York. One shirt was given to me by a friend, another I recieved by volunteering for a park clean-up, and ah, this one I wore in a play. I was wearing this shirt when this happened, that shirt when I did that…etc. The memories started out fondly enough, but soon took a dramatic and dark turn, when I heard a voice way back in the back of my head shout FAILURE! several times. Then I heard another voice behind that voice screaming something inaudible, but based on the intonation, I determined it to be something like self-pity. I decided it was a good idea to shut the drawer and take a walk along the bay.
I walked out the door and into a straight-up, bona fide, sunny spring day. It was so bright, I ran back inside and grabbed my sunglasses. I rarely wear sunglasses, but the sun bouncing off the water of the bay would make a thorough, slow and internal voice-quieting walk a bit tough. So I put on the shades and headed to the water. Two blocks from the bay, I could smell the salt air. The sun felt good, though pockets of shade were a bit chilly. It was such a grand day. I felt as if I’d finally crawled out of that thick, blue-gray, melancholic blanket of winter.
At the pier at the end of 69th Street in Bay Ridge, a few clusters of Chinese or Mexican fisherman were trying their luck. It was a weekday, so there wasn’t a lot of people around. I meandered about the pier, finally making it to the edge, where I caught a clear view of the Statue of Liberty. Lady Lib’s oxidized green skin was a vibrant, otherworldly color on an otherwise complimentary pallete of earth tones. I took a picture to capture this symbol of our nation’s freedom, liberty and all round ability to do our own happy thing without fear of persecution or oppression, and to record her brilliant color that popped out from the landscape as if she wore that green dress just for me. Just to her right was lower Manhattan – a crowded forest of old and new giant steel and glass buildings – all pointing up, up, up. The highest, of course, was the still incomplete, new World Trade Center. The monolith and monument to global economic power towered behind Lady Liberty. Just wait, whispered the almost completed shiny giant to the little green lady, when they finish up my top floors, you and me gonna dance, sugar.
I took a picture of lower Manhattan and thought about the first time I came to New York, ten years ago – when World Trade Center was still called Ground Zero, a gaping hole in the ground surrounded by a chainlink fence. I was 28 and I thought I was old, a veteran worn down from the battle of Life. But as I stood on the pier Thursday, I saw that 28 year version of me clearly – a clueless, scared, pink-skinned baby who mistook his empty pockets for wisdom. I heard yelling, just behind me. I turned around and was relieved to find it was not another voice in my head, but some angry kid running around with a stick. Frowning as he ran about, he hit all the benches and rails with the stick, yelling every now and then. He made it all the way to the end, then turned and ran back to land, hitting, yelling all the way.
I decided to walk along the bay’s edge to check out the driftwood. Like the pier, the path along the bay was populated only by clusters of fishermen speaking softly in foreign tongues, their eyes glued to their lines as they twitched in the windy afternoon. Further on, I saw a jogger, but the lack of people made the place feel not just unpopulated, but deserted, and gave the foghorns of the ships a much lonelier sound. Underneath the giant Verrazano Bridge, one frieghter headed out of the bay, another headed in. They came close to each other, as if they wanted to warn each other of what lay ahead. But they just drifted by without stopping, as if they knew such warnings would always fall into the water before finding their target…so they just blow the horn, leaving the deep, slow, monosyllabic honks to represent everything they want to say to each other.
Sunlight danced across the water in a brilliant blue hue. I was shocked to have never noticed such a color before. I stopped to take a pic – a permanent momento of this other worldly blue on the water. Snap, snap. It was also low tide, and I noticed how surreal the green algae-covered rocks appeared. They are of course submerged during high tide, but like the blue sunlight, I was shocked to have never noticed such a green – a color beyond description other than alien. Snap, snap – more pictures to remind me of what New York looked like when I was 37 years old – an age when I know longer thought of Life as a battle, but more like a game with no ball, no uniforms, inconsistent officiating, and a time limit that doesn’t seem to be enforced until one of the other players never shows up again. My hands were cold after taking the pictures. The sun had lowered to a late afternoon angle. The wind gently shoved me in a homeward direction.
When I got back to my apartment, I perused the pictures I’d taken on my smartphone. But I was somewhat puzzled to find that none of the pictures looked the way they did when I took them. Manhattan and the World Trade Center didn’t look very big in the picture. They looked far away, insignificant. The Statue of Liberty didn’t even show up in any of the pictures I took. In one, if I zoomed in all the way, I saw a blurry glimpse of Lady Lib, but no one would guess the green blob to be a symbol of liberty. I was even more puzzled to find that the sunlight on the water were not electric blue but just plain, ordinary white. And finally, the hyper green rocks – that green that made me sense thriving and vibrant existences were possible outside of the known and only have to be seen once to become reality…was just run of the mill, algae-green.
I moved beyond mere puzzlement and became perplexed. Could my perception of what I saw that afternoon, of what I saw in all my 10 years of New York, of ALL I’ve ever seen on Planet Earth, be fundamentally skewed? Could the color dial on the old RCA TV that is my brain be broken? Do I need to be fixed? I leaned back in my chair, scratched my head, collegiately. Then I crossed my arms to begin a session of long and deep pondering. As I did so, I felt something in my coat pocket. Hmm, what could it be? I asked myself in a deep and learned voice. I reached into my pocket and pulled out my sunglasses. Oh, that’s right, the lenses are reddish-brown, and tend make the lighter colors pop out – they tweak the greens and turn whites a soothing yet sparkling blue – and blends the background in earth tones, to give life something like a holographic vibe. The sunglasses alter my vision reality.
They’re cool sunglasses but I always feel like an idiot when I wear them, they’re just not my style. But like I said, I rarely wear them. And though the pictures I took show the facts and real colors of the day – and not what I saw – I did, nonetheless, see crazy blues and greens. They have been recorded in my mind, along with a towering glass and steel giant just waiting to bump and grind with a little green lady as she stands her ground on a little island in the bay – unafraid of what’s behind her, and clear in the hue of an undefined color as she faces the endless sea, holding her torch high over the troubled waters. That is what I saw – when I existed at that time and at that place – and is forever in my mind.
I still haven’t thrown anything out yet.