Baudelaire, on Watteau

Watteau, carnival where many a distinguished soul
Flutters like a moth, lost in the brilliance
Of chandeliers shedding frivolity on the cool,
Clean decors enclosing the changes of the dance.


I had no intention of writing about this–Trenton of all places–but spending one’s time doing piano exercises leads the mind to wander and point by point, well, everything belongs somewhere. I moved in to my room in Philadelphia on Wednesday evening, and, after a quick dinner, unpacked and set up my music things to spend until 2am finishing my composition assignment. In the morning I dallied…

I used to see signs, advertisements, ‘what sort of traveler are you?’ accompanying idiotic photographs of things that this traveler or that traveler does, like carrying a surfboard, or looking at baskets of exotic peppers and roots, or holding a camera. What sort of traveler am I? What a stupid question. What sort of traveler am I? I’m the sort of traveler who will treat a situation with mechanical ease if pressed to absorb too much too quickly, and I’ll walk away with nothing. I went to the Louvre twice–both times it was free, and both times I used the ‘secret’ entrance that doesn’t have a line. And what did I see? Mostly Watteau. I spent hours with Watteau. Both times. I never see any of the exciting things I’m supposed to see. Everything seems larger than life until I arrive, and I’m stricken with the thought that I’m only rushing forward to see a Thing, just this Thing, which doesn’t have much relevance to my life, and I’ve never particularly longed to see it before. What have I longed to see? Not the Mona Lisa, but Watteau, yes, I’ve longed to see Watteau. So I’m that twat who sits on the floor, gets in your way, who just stares and takes notes. Sorry. I need time. I take most things slowly, I take them until I’ve had enough, and then I move on, like a baby pausing with a cheerio half in its mouth, watching you before finally looking away.

I spent a lot of my childhood traveling, it seems, and I think I remember nearly all of it. I didn’t appreciate much of it, though I gasped when I was told I should, but it’s difficult to appreciate anything that hasn’t been denied you. It’s difficult to recognize beauty when you haven’t been shown much in the way of ugliness.

As I dressed, checked the weather (which is a useless action on my part, as I’ll dress the same regardless), made sure the cat was alive, locked the door, and left, I looked at my little handmade map and wondered if I should take a taxi to the trains, or perhaps I should just walk. No. No. Walking is lovely, it’s how I usually get around! because it leaves me in complete control, and taxis are most efficient, but…my little map said I should take a certain bus. It would cost $2. I had exactly that many quarters in my shirt pocket. But it’s a bus. A city bus. Where would I put the money? Or sit? Or get off? And every time it moves I’ll fall over, and nobody will like me, and it’ll smell bad, and there’ll be children everywhere. I stood at the corner with a very short, old man and his short, old wife, and a third short, old man. They spoke another language. Trucks kept coming and parking in front of the bus stop, and then behind one another, so that we didn’t know where the bus would be. I just followed the three old people wherever they went. I felt like we shared something. The bus came. They all flashed passes, I put my quarters in the slot. In France the busses would blast off like spaceships, the driver would multitask, tipping the bus over corners while counting the change you placed in his little tray, and then typing something, the ticket coming out of the machine, and then you’d slide to the back of the bus, over the accordion in the middle, and pray. This bus eased into everything. I got off at the wrong stop. I walk quickly, and by the time I got to the stop I was supposed to get off at, the three short, old people were getting off the bus. They didn’t even recognize me.

It’s this feeling I love, of being back on the road, of not knowing what I’m doing, but knowing I’ll do it somehow. And I don’t think experience helps. Every place is different, every building, every city, has its own customs, even the pizza shop in Amherst, Antonio’s, has its own customs, and when customers don’t know the customs, well, it mucks up the system. All the ticket windows had signs saying they were closed. They pointed off into space, go to the other ticket windows. I paced for a minute before going to the closed ticket windows and asking where the others were. The woman told me she was open. I asked for a round trip ticket to New York. She said I’d have to go to the other ticket windows. When traveling I always have my eyes on, my country-mouse eyes, so that people, especially women, become very motherly and sweet to me, I’m excessively polite, I appear confused. And then I walk confidently, I keep my chin raised and my eyes set, I pretend I know what’s going on. At the other window they said their machines were broken, they couldn’t sell me a round trip ticket to New York. But they could sell me one to Trenton, and once there I could buy another one.

On the train I felt hypersensitive, I mean, everything was brighter and more saturated than usual, so when this guy sat next to me in his wife-beater, smelling of sweat and old cigarettes and warm beer, and then produced a paper bag of horrible meat, finishing that with a dessert of spicy pepperoni, I waited and waited for my nose to become accustomed to it, please, I prayed, please don’t let him begin chewing tobacco and spitting into a cup, I couldn’t bear it, and as the car cleared out he refused to get up and move, he just sat with me. And then he was gone.

Trenton took two seconds, bought my ticket, waited with a bunch of aging-rock-star sorts, and then off to New York. Penn Station. I had 13 minutes left, and that wasn’t enough time to be a subway hero, so I hailed a cab and got to the building with 2 minutes to spare. Hooray. They served us coffee in china cups and saucers. It was delicious coffee.

Internet timetables said the last train that would connect in Trenton would be leaving at 23:06, so after a spicy Indian dinner with Caleb we parted ways, I told him confidently that I knew which sub would carry me back to the station, and he said okay but that he had to make a call before he went underground, so goodbye, and once underground I found I really didn’t know which train to take, and I hid behind a column so that he couldn’t see stupid me waiting for my imaginary subway-train to Penn Station.

I got there.

I missed the train right before the correct one because I found the train before I found where to buy a ticket. I bought the ticket, the train left without me, I caught the one I’d planned on catching. It was luxurious. All five of us sat on the left side. It smelled of sweat. The train wobbled and swayed nauseatingly. I moved from the window seat to the aisle to be closer to its center, like you’re supposed to do on a plane, I took an antiemetic, I felt better, and we arrived in Trenton at 1am. I bought my next ticket. Rushed down to the next train, and the conductor said it wouldn’t be leaving until nearly 6am.

This is the sort of thing I love the most.

To be stuck at a train station at a generally ungodly hour, alone, hungry, tired, where do I go? what do I do? but knowing that it’s not really worth doing more than smiling about things, because it’s not like any harm will come of the situation, probably.

I walked slowly back up the staircase, the police sat at the top, a young woman was speaking to them, and the key word I picked up was ‘internet’–she walked over to the screens showing the timetables. I followed her there and asked if she missed the train to Philly also. She had. We’d seen bad timetables. She could go back to her friend’s place. I could go back to New York, get to Caleb’s place by 4am or so. I hoped she’d decide to just stay. She did. Maybe I tried talking her into it, I don’t remember, but I know it wasn’t difficult.

I remember her shoes, they looked like they were yarn socks, and I remember she had three-quarter length sleeves, I remember the color of her eyes, the shape of her nose, her lips, her teeth, her smile, her complexion, and how the skin rounded her hands and fingers. I don’t remember anything else, not her voice, not even her face.

I suggested we take a walk somewhere, try to find someplace open late. We left the station, there was a police car parked across the street, and a cemetery, an old man on a bench coughing,
‘we should remember landmarks or something,’ she said.
‘there’s that old bum.’
‘he might move.’
‘he doesn’t sound like it.’ we turned the corner at a church, turned to the left, and in the night there were no cars, no lights, no people, just building after silent, dead building, she said she wasn’t cold, I felt responsible for her, no gas stations, no convenience stores, every block the same, I would check behind us, I told her that I have tendency to get myself into bad situations, ‘do you get out again?’
‘well, I’m here now. But, what I mean is that you should not entirely trust that going along with me here is safe, so if anything seems like a bad idea, speak up, okay?’
We briefed each other about where we’d been that day, about who we are, where we are from, what we do, what we hope to do. We had Judaism in common, and being in the period of days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, it’s been on my mind a lot lately.

It’s during these days that we’re supposed to ask forgiveness from anyone we’ve hurt in the past year. I haven’t been able to come up with anyone from whom I haven’t already asked forgiveness. Last year I had to make a number of embarrassing phone calls. This year I think I’ve been pretty decent. It unsettles me. I must have been awful to Somebody. I’m unsettled.

A taxi stopped at a light nearby, I went to his window and asked if he knew anyplace that was open. He asked why we were outside and I told him. He said ‘go back to the train station and don’t leave it. And definitely don’t walk any further, this is a dangerous place, you’re going to get mugged, go back, right now, go back and stay indoors until your train comes, okay?’ So we began walking back. This time I was able to walk on the side of road, which is where the gentleman is supposed to walk, but switching sides felt somehow awkward before. The cab met us fifteen minutes later, told us to get in, and then sped off, taking us to the back of the station where a cafe was, he said. He said that for $80 he’d take us to Philly, but I told him I only had $15 on me and apologized. He wouldn’t accept any money from us, but made us assure him we’d stay indoors. We sat at metal patio furniture, drinking hot chocolate under a Coca-Cola umbrella, indoors. We spoke for hours, she never looked tired, she rested her arms on the table, one hand always very near mine, leaning over the table, making eye contact, engaged, laughing, smiling, easy discussion, creeping towards political views, families, religious experiences, as I found she’d been brought up far more religious than I had, it was simple, it was enjoyable. At some point she sat back in her chair, crossed her arms like she was cold, and I couldn’t figure out how it intersected with anything we’d been discussing.

We took a walk toward the bathrooms, I was in there for less than a minute and she was out before me, she said a homeless woman was brushing her teeth and gagging in there, and afterwards we sat on benches on the wall. An old man sat down next to me and began telling me about how he’d been schizophrenic but that he took medication for six weeks and it cured him. He’d left the hospital after being there for a decade. He’d strangled the nurse. He’d kill his sister. He laughed and laughed and laughed. I suggested to her we take a walk. We went to the timetables, we stood there watching people around us rushing and doing everything with so much more energy than necessary, moving like death was  in pursuit, and they announced the train was boarding. She chose a seat for three, put her bag between us, sat with her knees up, her shoes off, we kept speaking softly, waiting for the train to move, in between silences she’d catch my eyes and then we’d quickly look away. She began biting her nails for the first time that evening. Eyes. And she would close them;–rest her head, and then open them gently and catch mine, and then close hers again. The train lurched forward, she didn’t fall, she didn’t flinch, she rested her cheek on the rubber seat, or in the air, I told her she didn’t have to sleep like that, she said, ‘no, it’s fine’ with a tone of finality, and with that bag between us, with her legs and feet and her bag between us, three armed sentinels, all was still, and all was silent.

One night in the guest house of a British MP I was curled up on a sofa speaking with Nassar, he was telling me about his childhood in India, his travels across America, he served me lamb samosas, and as I took a bite he said ‘I hope you’re not vegetarian.’ He told me about how in nearly anywhere in the world if you sit up with somebody, anybody, and speak with them half the night, learn about each other, it brings you closer to that person, and that the next day you two have a closer relationship, you look at each other with different eyes, but that in America, you sit up with someone half the night, tell your stories and get to know each other, and the next day at work, they pretend it never happened. Americans are friendlier, yes, but their relationships are shallower, their friendships are almost meaningless, their words, no matter how heartfelt, are nearly empty.

It was nearly 7am when the train woke me up, I touched her shoulder–her shirt sleeve was white–30th Street Station bustling, again, we were sequoias, and they were mosquitos, we walked slowly, they were being born and dying faster than we could breathe, she didn’t look at me, at the lobby the air roared, we faced each other and couldn’t make it halfway through any sentences, being shoved by people, unable to continue speaking softly because of all the noise, so much movement, so much light, so much sound, so unlike our little Trenton, I began to ask if she–I’m no good at these sorts of things, I’ve rarely bothered, it’s difficult with anyone, even with Caleb, knowing him for years, our goodbye was awkward and difficult, yeah, we’ll get together soon (of course we will, we have unspoken weekly dinner arrangements), Jessica makes it easy by hugging me and saying something encouraging about the future, and Céline would smile and wink before ducking into a car, but here, in the 30th Street Station, her whole body screamed reticence and foreboding, she looked at me with eyes that said ‘I’ve never seen you before in my life’–
‘I’ll be around for a few–‘
‘I don’t know my schedule, but, I mean, you can call me maybe, I don’t know, maybe.’
I thought about all the times I’ve given fake phone numbers to people, fake names, fake e-mail addresses, all the times I’ve climbed through bathroom windows and hitched rides with paperboys, and the branch she was clutching snapped, and wordlessly she was washed away toward the trolleys, and I turned back upstream, walked as quickly as I could, chin raised, eyes set, walked right into the dead end of a windowed hallway, oh so lost.


Visiting cities used to exhaust me utterly, until last spring when, as recorded here, I think, I gave New York a try with a goal of being drunk the entire time, and it worked out, and since then I’ve had no problem with cities at all. Little towns, like the one Manny lived in in Connecticut, they’re easy to digest, there’s a single coffee shop, and an ATM, and really not much else that I can remember. That town is mine, I might never go there again, but I’ll be there always, nothing will change in it without my knowledge, because nothing will change.

Chicago means these things to me: one of my favorite bands is Chicago. The Smashing Pumpkins came from there and I don’t really like the Smashing Pumpkins except for that one album. Upton Sinclair. Hemmingway and his story about the option to cross the lake to Canada as a means to avoid the draft. Isabel Archer. Characters in Gatsby. Capone. Michael Jordan.

Going to a new city is like watching minor surgical procedures under local anesthesia, it happens, it happens to you, and you don’t feel a thing. I overcame this in France by walking. I suppose spending the past month or so that I’ve been back mostly sleeping has atrophied my legs and feet and I just didn’t notice until I set out on Friday morning to see what this city was really about. I will say that United Express is a wonderful airline, I was thrilled with them. And then the El to reach Chicago from O’Hare was a depressing experience, very bumpy and slow, I was quite sure I’d have to get off and have a rest, but I made it okay.

I walked around trying to find someplace to eat, and happened upon the Juicy Wine Co. whose website makes it seem as if they actually serve food, but as far as I could tell all they had was wines and dried meats. Of course, I went because I thought it must be some exciting new creation, “Juicy Wine”–so I went in, and I think I was the only person who didn’t work there, and they all looked at me and I said, “so…what is it?”
[they give an answer]
“So…it’s not anything…novel?”
“Well, we’ve been here for two years, I’m surprised you haven’t heard of us.”
“I just got here today.”
“Oh. Well, you should go upstairs, people like the upstairs.”
And with everyone looking at me, waiting for me to order, I just, what a douche, ordered some tea, a black tea I’d never heard of before, with hints of chocolate, and the truth is I wanted so much they offered but I couldn’t afford any of it.

I’ve got to remember to get a DNA sample from my dog, I feel like she’s suddenly gained some perspective on time and mortality, the expression on her face is always horrifying now, as you can tell she can’t decide if she’s done enough with her life, if she was happy, if those two times she made love to another dog could have been better, probably, because she never loved him, wondering where the rest of her children have gone, has she run enough? does she regret the time she jumped through the car window? is she embarrassed about her son? as the cancer spreads through her body is she truly content with the course of her life? her near brush with fame as she took on the Westminster Kennel Club show, flown all over the country for special training as a champion, my sweet little dog, she doesn’t even smell so bad. Yes, my darling, I will clone you, I will clone you as soon as I have the money, and I’ll make a new clone of you every year so that each time one of you kicks the bucket I won’t even really notice, it’ll be wonderful, you’ll all have the same name and when I shout it all twenty of you will come running to say hello to me, you were my first best friend, and all eighty of you will be my last, don’t eat each other when i die.

So the following day I walked only ten miles–it felt like more–but that’s probably because I was wearing Italian leather dress boots. Some seven miles into the journey a man said “shoe shine” as I walked by, and I thought to myself, “asshole,” before walking another ten steps and the sudden recognition that maybe he wasn’t criticizing me, but was rather offering me something. I spun around and asked how much. He smiled and opened the door as he said $5, more expensive than at the airport, but…hell, he was in better shape than the old men who work at the airport.
“Are you married?” he asked.
“Have you been to Mexico?” he asked.
“Are you here for business?” he asked.
“Where did you get these shoes?” he asked. Ah, now, finally, a subject I enjoy.
“Ah, yes, you’d find shoes like these in France, in Spain, in Italy. And they cost you a lot?”
“No, not so much.”
“60-some euros.”
“They’d cost over 200 if you bought them here. I know this because I’m also a shoemaker.”
“Do you see this style of shoe often?”
“Oh no, that’s why I asked where you got them. You don’t see these here.”
And he shined them up shinier than when I bought them, so shiny that they look like Marine dress boots, so shiny that I can see my reflection in them. And then I continued on to the Art Institute to see their two paintings by Watteau, but they were closing, so I continued on to where I was heading…

i chose Clark Street because it looked most interesting, as if I might see the most on it, and it took me past Wrigley Field, whose name in my youth I was proud to know, and if I could have seen a game there, I would have, I’ve never been near a major-league stadium before. And, most importantly, the site of the Valentine’s Day massacre. The old buildings are torn down now, and it is only a parking lot, but…as I stood there and looked through the gates, it still doesn’t look like the surrounding area, there’s something darker about it, more run-down and horrific, my favorite place in the whole of the city I saw, buildings close together in ways physically impossible, a shroud of ignorance to the warmth and sunshine of the day, it was somehow delightful, somehow precisely what I wanted to see. As I continued walking I thought of how I swear I saw the garden of eden in a forest I was camping in as a boy, nobody else was around, but the image is so clear in my memory, I wonder if I was lying to myself then, and also now.

I’ve never seen so many cemeteries–like driving out of Brooklyn and just driving and driving for ages through that cemetery the highway traverses, everything about New York suddenly makes sense when you see that cemetery, everything about the world makes sense. In Chicago people die also. I would be on that schoolbus taking me to camp and the girl sitting next to me would say “if you breathe while we pass the cemetery ghosts will enter your body.” I don’t know why that’s such a scary thing to a child, to have a ghost enter your body, because I don’t know that I’d much mind it now, but, in any case, I would hold my breath, and even as I passed the cemeteries, hungry, and all these wonderful restaurants, I figured it might be a bad idea to eat in front of a cemetery. There are signs saying that out of respect for the dead you cannot allow your dog in the cemetery, there’s a sign saying out of respect for the dead you cannot allow your dog in the Vietnam War memorial. I went to a coffee shop and called Joe to see if he was in town, but he wasn’t, but we were talking when I guy sat down next to me and began talking rapidly about Chris Brown being sent to jail for committing only three felonies, what the fuck, if every time someone committed three felonies he was sent to jail, hell, everyone would be in jail, well, I don’t fucking care, what’s this word mean? Gouge? What’s that mean? Does that mean to hit? And I sit there with Joe yapping to me in one ear about what he’s going to do with the arts community of Cleveland, as their guru, and in the other eat this guy yapping about beating the shit out of his grandma and how, well, who fucking cares about Chris Brown because he’s my rival and if he’s in jail I can finally just take his place, good riddance, I’m a singer, hey, look, look man, this guy here, he’s an actor, he’s got a show, I’m an actor too, I’m a singer and a rapper and an actor and I had an audition for a TV show yesterday and the secretary in the lobby said I probably did well so I’m expecting them to give me a call anytime now, I’m feeling pretty good about all that. Joe’s conversation finished, and this guy keeps talking, telling me his life story, crack-addict mother, father in prison, what it’s like to be young, gifted, and black in America, hell, he’s been everywhere, he almost got strangled to death by Luther Vandross’s men because when they introduced him to the Temptations he was all like “so what? what are you gonna do for me?” And then he mentioned he was gay. And it all became clear. This guy wasn’t looking at me like a person, actually, he wasn’t looking at me like an ear, he was touching my arm because he was looking at me like a piece of meat. I don’t mind being hit on, okay, I’ve always minded being hit on in the past, and this time too, I hate being hit on, but that’s because the right person has never hit on me. There you have it. So now, I have this grand-matricidal guy who wants to stick his penis in me, and he’s cried twice, and he’s been talking to me for over an hour, I mean, Jesus, how many fucking lame stories can he possibly have if he’s only been alive for 22 years? And suddenly, thank the good lord, I get a business call about some freelance work I’ve been doing, actually, more like an advertisement calling to make sure I understand how to use their product and let me know about specials. I take the call and the guy runs out to smoke a cigarette with his friend, a big Native American who’s been trying to come in and keeps getting shooed out by my new friend. There’s no way to escape–he’s got me cornered in here, no back door, and he’s standing in front of the only exit. I get my scarf on and pack my bag. His scary friend comes in and demands “____wants your information.”
“My information. Right. Do you have a pen?” And I write down a fake name and number. When I leave my new friend takes my hand and won’t let it go, he hands me a piece of paper with endless ways to contact him, tells me to call anytime. “Well, I’ll be in town for two weeks, so you call me too” I tell him. He says, I should probably let you go, but he still doesn’t drop my hand, and he asks if he can come see me perform tonight. “I wish you could, but we’re sold out tonight.”
“Can’t I just…you know, drop by?”
“There’s fire regulations, and the doorman won’t let you in, there’s already too many people, you know, fire regulations, we’ll get in trouble.”
“When can I see you?”
“Sunday, 3pm.”
I’d be a thousand miles away by then. He dropped my hand and I scampered off and turned the first corner and then hurried down alley after alley, searching closely for any signs of black people…terrified of blacks because…one wants to make love to me. I tell my brother this and he begins listing rules for when you’re allowed to shoot somebody legally, and how it’s against the law to fire warning shots. You say “leave me alone I have a gun.” you pull it out. and if he still doesn’t turn his back, you kill him. “i’ve been trained to put two shots to the chest and one to the head before he even hits the ground…that’s also illegal outside the military. when you fire, you do so for one reason: to thwart an attack. once the danger has passed, any injury you inflict is entirely illegal.” a few blocks down i got back onto Clark and continued my wonderful journey through the heart of Chicago!

As I crossed over to the ‘miraculous mile’ or whatever they call it, I grew cold, my feet hurt, and I realized I could separate myself from the pain, I could stand up straight, walk normally, and despite the pain, actually my socks were bloody in multiple places when I changed them later on, I could be apart from it because it didn’t frighten me, but this feeling of dread came over me, a vast feeling of aloneness, that hasn’t quite subsided yet, I feel as if I’m standing over the abyss that is time and waiting for it to close, or shake, or smoke, or something, anything, and rather, I’m just getting older as I wait. I walked the rest of the way. I spent most of the weekend panicky because a stomach flu was going around and I’ve been trying to figure out if it’s a message from god, and if so, what’s the message? And everyone probably thinks I’ve lost my marbles, which I have, but…well, I was on edge, Chicago, on edge.

Here, I’ll end on a positive note. Everyone was really friendly. That’s how the midwest is, friendly, which I find creepy, I’m so used to coldness. Actually, the only person who was unfriendly was still only unfriendly in a friendly-sarcastic way. It went like this, at 1am as I checked out from CVS and, since they didn’t give me a bag, I was in the process of taking one for myself, and the checkout guy said.
“Oh, you wanted a bag.”
“Yes, please.”
“I thought maybe you wanted to save the environment.”
“At first I did, but then I remembered I have quite a long way home.”
“You have a long way home. Right. That makes sense. A long way home. So you want a bag. Yeah, okay.”


Otherwise, everyone was friendly. In fact, the guy sitting across the aisle from me on the plane home wouldn’t shut the hell up. He’d wait for me to blink my eyes open or reach for a gummy bear or something and begin asking me inane questions to which I’d provide vapid answers and try to shut my eyes again. And then while we were out for dinner last night the guy sitting next to us begged us to let him tell his story, because he’d just now been released from jail and was getting some dinner and his girlfriend wouldn’t even come home from the arcade to see him, and he had to tell his whole boring story. And even after his story was finished and we’d all agreed it was a wonderful story he should call the newspapers with, and then turned back around, he insisted on telling us more. What I mean is that everyone is friendly, in the whole world, the whole goddamn world is friendly, and there’s a great big cloud over my head, and I check my face for wrinkles, I love showering.

Chicago is a nice city, and I wouldn’t mind living there. But there’s something about the coast that makes me feel more comfortable, as if when the apocalypse comes I’ll be able to escape the wrath of god quicker if only because the ocean’s an hour away and i could always swim to france if satan gave me magic powers!

Jeanne d’Arc, part 1.


I’ve always been highly conscious of lingering energy, though part of it may be my imagination, I’ve been to where Martin Luther King was shot, and it made me shiver a little, even at age 8, not because of what had occurred there, but because I knew without a doubt that he had been there himself. When I walked up the Statue of Liberty, despite the terror at the way it swayed in the storm, with every step I thought of all the great footsteps that were beneath mine. At Versailles, it was not the princes I identified with anymore, it was the poor running through the palace seeking the king and queen. For ten years I dreamed of the Hall of Mirrors, I pictured the gardens outside, it was a feat of unmatched la gloire! and at this age when very little surprises me anymore, I found that the Hall had been greatly enhanced by my imagination, I almost vomited in a London bathroom that looked similar.
What caught my eye was something behind the mirrors: my face. Would it only take one change of clothes, perhaps a haircut, to let me see what these mirrors must still remember? I think of young men and ladies looking at themselves in these mirrors, and I think of the revolutionaries running, always running in my imagination, through that hall, did they stop and stare? Did they know what to expect? Did it infuriate them to see the excesses, or were they awed by its magnificence? When I step inside any cathedral I have the same argument with myself–how many people could this cathedral have fed if it had never been built? Will Durant suggests that over-control of the population, leaving the failures in charge of procreation, is the downfall of some civilizations. If they stalled, is that what gave Marie Antoinette enough time to escape? And when they found the rooms empty, did they walk or did they run back out? Did they touch
anything? They tore down weather-cocks from the houses of the wealthy. The chambers below the Hall of Mirrors are pathetic, whitewashed, dark, low-ceilinged, even depressing when the windows are open, the library of men destined to never be great, to be filled with knowledge but fail to outlive the king. The bed where the queen would insist the entire court watch her give birth, how does a queen spread her legs? how does she scream? does somebody consume the afterbirth of the sun-king’s descendants? I can’t even clip my fingernails without thinking of Sir James Fraiser’s list of peoples who consume fingernail clippings and earwax in the endless battle against bad magic. I take a particular pleasure when in large cities of clipping my nails out the window, here’s something that won’t kill anyone it lands on, isn’t as immediately disgusting as spit, and gives the recipient the opportunity to retaliate. I suppose the only thing better than that would be to just slit your wrists out the window. I’ve heard that defenestration isn’t nearly as funny as it sometimes seems.
When I stand at the windows, I don’t care for what I see, but I care for what has been seen, and by whom. I care that this view once meant something. I care about the ways that stone steps are so weathered by footsteps in the Louvre as I trot to the top floor with one hand prepared to cover my teeth if I fall. I send out little prayers to the dead, even the dead who don’t deserve it, for what we’ve taken from them. And that’s the point I’m trying to reach, which is that I feel like going someplace allows us to take a little bit of it away with us, we don’t need to take photographs because we’re taking something of the essence in our hearts.
But…can it run out? I think so. But isn’t there more to it that I feel? Yes–it’s that I only take away what I’m seeking, or what I feel or know is there. I never take away ghosts I do not know. Which is why I feel nothing of kings and queens–for Marie Antoinette’s toilet, I only wonder what that second little hole is for? Céline says tampons and smiles. I wonder about the revolutionaries, not as revolutionaries but as people, because I identify with them as people, I identify with standing in the houses of the wealthy and poking my head around and gasping. I take a little bit of the revolution away with me, god knows there’s none of it left at the place de la bastille. Between the revolution and napoleon, the messiah comes and history gives way to modernity somehow, it’s not the Champs-Élysées of Joni Mitchell (or David Geffin, if you’re going to get picky) I walk down, no, because on one hand I’m trying to figure out where I can possibly throw a clementine peel since there’s no goddamn trashcans, and on the other I’m trying to figure out how
long I have before that quiche and its burnt chevre explode from my ass and how many years I’ll be put away for manslaughter afterwards, sorry Paris, is this still Paris? no public toilets or trashcans? That’s just fine. Because I’m crying softly for the Champs-Élysées of Watteau, and if forced, of Degas, and all I can feel are the goose-steps of Nazis, I can’t even feel Napoleon. Modern, modern is when you order all your soldiers confirmed infected with plague to be shot in the name of mobility. Do you remember what happened to your car-phone? Some would call that cruel, and some would call it merciful. I’m not afraid of death, so I call it kind. I can’t bear to walk all the way to the Arc de Triomphe, mostly because of the diarrhea, but also, let’s be serious, why do I care to see a testament to ultimate failure? It breaks my heart that Napoleon broke up with Josephine, and that’s why I hate him. That’s the only reason I hate him. Because I’ve read his love letters to her. Monogamy, the one thing princes cannot overcome, even Leonard Bernstein had to marry against his sexuality to assure himself a job conducting the NY Philharmonic. Life is rough. I don’t have enough money to see Blake’s illuminated manuscripts at the
British Library, and I don’t have enough to see the uncensored copy of Nin’s Winter of Artifice at the Biblioteque Nationale. Life is rough. Four different people have told me in the past 24 hours that they’re the only person who truly understands me. Life is rough! I nod weakly. The whole family is worried that I’m drinking too much and not eating enough. My first reaction to returning to Ameriker was to lose fifteen pounds. My mother says my belt isn’t tight enough, and to think these pants made my package look huge just last November!
Unlikely as it may seem, Jeanne d’Arc has always been one of my heroes. I remember where I was sitting precisely when I first saw Bill and Ted’s something-something Adventure, and two characters jumped out at me: Billy the Kid and Joan of Arc. I was better situated to pursue Billy the Kid’s footsteps, so I’ve trekked through deserts, cemeteries, ghost towns, I’ve stood on cliffs, been in the dirt houses of those people we still called Indians, I’ve seen the bullet holes in the walls, my skin has cracked in the dry heat, I’ve been blinded by the dust, I’ve been thirsty, I’ve been tired, I’ve held guns, I’ve felt my skin burnt by trucks on fire, I’ve been cold at night. And always that one foggy image of Billy the Kid, the idea of him hiding in bedrooms, his youthfulness and sharpness, his inherent greatness. One night at a bar Scott and I decided a new rule was in effect: wedding rings meant nothing, we would chase married women if they dared to look us in the eyes. In a way, murder is okay when it comes to legends. Daedalus is an object of pity, but I become uncomfortable to think of him as the murderer of his nephew. But Jeanne d’Arc…what has she meant to me that has lasted for so long, what does she mean to me now? How is it that I continue to feel attached to her? It has something to
do with all three of the things that have obsessed my aching mind since first my eyes were opened and I was ashamed, many years before I could even spell my own name: death, sexuality, and god. Since then it’s been Dreyer’s portrayal of her, and Shakespeare’s, and it’s been the way she’s haunted my memories of my future, the way I’ve always felt like a sacrifice, the way I’ve presented myself as the goat destined for Azazel, the way they tested me for scoliosis twice every year until I was 16 because they couldn’t understand that every time a butterfly died the muscles in my back would grow a little bit weaker. I haven’t quite learned to lift with my legs yet, though I’ve seen the signs a thousand times, I just never paid attention.