Thursday, January 31, 2008

In A City Like No Other with Jo(e)

We came to this city to step out of our lives for a few days and be anybody. Jo(e) arrived first, spent a day and a night trolling the upper east side of town for thrills with her sister, then headed over to the conference we had used as a prompt for this foray out of daily routine. She dropped off her things on the bed by the window, and headed out to meet up with strangers and eat supper.

When I got here I immediately stripped off the too many layers [it's 50 effin' degrees here] of clothes I'd worn on the train, and became Deevil van Zandt for the night, dashing out to have supper with a stranger of my own. Later, back at the room, Jo(e) and I finally coincided. The first thing she said was "get up on that [tiny] table by the window and we'll shoot the photo there with you looking like one of those Aphrodite statues on a pedestal. Gamely, I got up on the flimsy wobbly thing, but of course my head grazed the ceiling, throwing off the proportions.

Did I mention that Jo(e) became Fran Lebowitz the minute she stepped off the train, without the tuxedo and cigarette, but with the camera dangling from her neck. She specializes in nude shots, and tells potential models it is some arcane tradition from her early years. People fall for this all the time, apparently (just scroll through her Flickr files).

This morning, we went out to hunt up some breakfast, and wound up in a deli with tables in the window. Jo(e) munched her bagel with peanut butter and commented on the passing scene: People don't seem to wear warm enough clothing here!......look at that woman there....she's got 4-inch high heels on her shoes! can she walk in them???.... And what is with all the black????

I commented on her own grown-up clothes-- herringbone blazer with very clean brown shirt, hiking boots, jeans. Conference Mode, she calls it. Very nice, and she fits right in. Nobody would ever know....

Look up there, Deevil! A man in his office, talking on the phone! Yes, I see him. As I was saying.... very sophisticated look, Jo(e).....Look over there! and she pointed out many more interesting things as we walked the streets, aggressively jaywalking and swearing at rude drivers who couldn't resist honking their horns, pointing out novelties (like two running fountains in the same block, in January), shivering in our too sparse clothes, having been lured by the overly warm room into shedding longjohns, scarves and gloves, against our better judgement.

After breakfast, we headed back to the hotel and conference. The schedule is dense with events and sessions, at least 2 dozen for every hour & a half time slot. Who can choose from among all those. The Book Fair itself is an exercise in satiation. New books of poetry and flyers, bowls of chocolate, raffle tickets, representatives from publishers and presses all over the country, lists to add your name to, contests, knowledgeable people behind the tables eager to answer your questions, give you things, say your name, solicit your poems, and talk about writing.

And everywhere there are people. All kinds. Interesting and colorful and loud, confident and pushy and brash, fun to be with, hard to get away from, amusing and kind. The city itself is a personality. One I've missed, I realized last night walking through streets that were once as familiar to me as the inside of my mouth. I don't know exactly how long it's been since I've come here, but I do remember who I was with. And how long he's been dead, and how long before that it had been since we'd said goodbye at the Train Station at the Center of the World not knowing it would be the last time.


Thursday, January 03, 2008


I stopped in a cafe near my office and asked her to make me a tuna sandwich to watch her move. Gentle and graceful, she quietly took out the things needed for the sandwich, slicing off of a fresh loaf, opening a container, giving a little sniff. As she reached for a knife, I remembered the days of watching her on the parallel bars in a stuffy gym loud with kids, during the annual recital of her tumbling class.

She has always danced, at least in my eyes. Even seeing her walk along a sidewalk on her way to class or to her car, tilted forward slightly like her grandmother, I see her dancing. Swaying, fluttering her hands like the ends of branches, fingertips touching down, alighting on things. Like a sparrow on a windowledge, jittery with the cold but excited to be doing things. Turning this way and that, seeing from all angles, lifting off, gone.

Rachel reached up to the extra large box of plastic wrap, pulled out a sheet long enough to wrap the sandwich and corn chips, and yanked downward in a deft swoop. Holding what appeared to be a shining piece of air between her hands, she brought them around the sandwich, patting down, then brought it over to me. Want a bag, she asked, knowing I'd probably say no. Her good upbringing and good bones on display behind the counter. All the down-to-earth capable hands in her family background, reaching back to the grandmother of my grandmother's grandmother there in the room holding out my lunch sweetly, confidently, unbearably full of grace.