As Robert William Service wrote in The Cremation of Sam McGee: It’s the cursèd cold, and it’s got right hold till I’m chilled clean through to the bone. It starts at your fingertips and toes. It grips your face and neck. Breathing hurts. It creeps up from your extremities into your inner thighs, your armpits, into your core. You have to keep moving. And it still gets in. You think about what it would be like to die of exposure, such as the 129 men on the Franklin Expedition did in 1846.
I was biking today. And it was cold. -14 Celsius. It’s the same bitter cold as it was seven years ago in 2005 when the Metro Transit Authority (MTA) went on strike just before Christmas. I remember Mayor Bloomberg leading his entourage over the Brooklyn Bridge every morning to make sure that we all knew that we were in this together.He’s always been good at doing that. And then they opened up Madison, an entire lane for biking, pyloned off and policed, which was amazing until a taxi door opened right in front of me, and I went heels over head, “No!” and banged flat upside down onto the curb. I lay, looking into the cold blue, police everywhere, and thought, “Yeah, I’m okay. I can feel everything. I’m okay.” I sat up. My helmet was cracked. My hand was bloody and sore. I shook it out. And then I stood. The cab driver was there, looking desperate. “Please, please, don’t sue me. You can’t do that.” I tried to calm him. And then I realized it was the passenger who had opened the door, and he was long gone. An ambulance arrived. I told the medic that I was fine. He told me I had a broken hand. I didn’t believe him. “You’re in shock, man. Look at your bike.” The front of it was entirely bent. He took us – me and my bike – to the hospital. I waited for the x-rays and read Gotham. They sewed up my hand and I suddenly felt sick. I hadn’t eaten all day. They gave me orange juice and wrapped my hand in a cast. I had to walk my bike to the shop. “Doored?” The bike guy asked. “How many stitches?” “It’s broken.” “Lucky you’re not dead.” I left the bike to be fixed and walked home, 45 blocks through densely crowded streets; the strike was still on. I didn’t take the prescribed codeine – I was too tired for that – and felt oddly content and adrift when I flew to England for Christmas. They gave me a business class seat because of my hand. I stayed at a Hyatt Resort south of London for Christmas with my sister and mother and found myself on the elevator with Tim Burton and Helena Bonham Carter. I said something inane and one of them smiled. I wrote every night in the hotel pub and thought I might run into them again and I did. They were at a table right behind me; they only had to glance over to see my words. Wouldn’t Mr. Burton like to chat with a writer who had a broken hand? That was kind of like Oyster Boy, right? He might even need a quick re-write or a scene conceived. I could do all of that so much the better with my crooked and lumpy claw. I wrote and drank and finally looked. He was gone. I knew it wouldn’t have worked anyway. I didn’t write like him; his stuff was too weird. I continued to write and edit until closing time every night and woke up late and then came back to New York, the transit strike resolved, the cold weather too. The only scar that remained was my inability to make a fist and the fact that Burton didn’t jump at his chance.
It’s cold in New York today: -7 C (19 F), the coldest it’s been in two years. This is good because I am writing about cold things. Not surprisingly, January 22 has a cold history: 1930: -37 C (-35 F), Mount Carroll, Illinois (State record)
1982: 75% of the United States is covered in snow. 1985: -34 C (-30 F), Mountain Lake Bio Station, Virginia (State record); also 90% of the citrus crop is damaged by a cold wave in Florida. 1987: Due to a blizzard in New Jersey, only 334 people attend Devils’ 7-5 win over Calgary Flames. Finally and sadly, Judy Garland died of an overdose at age 48 in 1969. (Click her name or photo to listen to Somewhere Over the Rainbow.)
Richard Blanco (from Inaugural Poem One Today): All of us, as vital as the one light we move through, the same light on blackboards with lessons for the day, equations to solve, history to question or atoms imagine, the “I have a dream” we all keep dreaming or the impossible vocabulary of sorrow that won’t explain the empty desks of twenty children marked absent today and forever.
President Obama (from Inaugural Day Speech): Progress requires us to act in our time. For now decisions are upon us and we cannot afford a delay. We cannot mistake absolutism for principle. Or substitute spectacle for politics. Or treat name-calling as reasoned debate. We must act.
Martin Luther King: (from final speech given on April 3, 1968): And another reason that I’m happy to live in this period is that we’ve been forced to a point where we are going to have to grapple with the problems that men have been trying to grapple with through history, but the demands didn’t force them to do it. Survival demands that we grapple with them. Men, for years now, have been talking about war and peace. But now, no longer can they just talk about it. It is no longer a choice between violence or nonviolence in this world; it’s nonviolence or non-existent. That is where we are today.
Late last night, we decided to visit Christian Marclay’s 24-hour art installation The Clock at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. It was a kind of insomnia, a filmic one, reminding us we were awake when most others weren’t.
The piece chronicles moments in film in a full 24-hour loop, focusing on a specific time, thus operating as a virtual clock. We arrived at 10:45pm and expected to watch shortly thereafter until 2:00am or so; however we were told that it would be a three-hour wait. Unbelieving, we went ahead and were oddly heartened when we found the wait was to be only 2 1/2 hours. We moved slowly, very slowly and envied those in front of us who had planned ahead; they had magazines and books.We mused, checked our messages – there were none – took turns going to the bathroom, thrilled at the incremental steps and stared at the slowly looming sign.We finally arrived, yes, three hours later at 1:45am. We were sleepy as soon as we sat but the film was good. More than that. It was exhilarating. We were in a cinematic world at an alluring hour…trapped in the frame with lovers, drunks and confusion.
A woman beside us kept turning on her phone, and I had had enough. I leaned over, “Please stop playing with your phone.” She glared back. “I’m not playing. I’m texting my son.” What was she thinking? She was missing it! These were the witching hours of celluloid, the time of transition, from darkest night, lost in thought, to the realization of the approaching day. This was the time of winding clocks, standing naked by the window and watching emus walk through the bedroom.
The man beside me, a vague mix between Andy Warhol and John Cale in pale sunglasses and what looked like a tea cosy draped on his head, was fully reclined and began to snore; it was 4:00am. We considered staying longer – until 5:00am and beyond – but thought it better to come back another time, whenever the event may be staged again. We would just have to go to bed early and have Marclay’s film as our virtual alarm clock for another day.
I pull the album from the shelf. I open it to a random page. An odd figure is there. The elbows are crooked, the posture awkward, everything unsure. It’s me.I’m a teenager. I think I know better than I do. I know I do. I say and do things because nobody stops me. I just want to grow up. I want out of this childish world. I call myself Dr. Shades as I play basketball in the backyard; I bounce in a chair when I listen to The Partridge Family. I remember running out the door and yelling something stupid. I was referring to a crazy idea in my head; my mother thought it was aimed at her. These memories aren’t treasured. As much as I might decry the lack of a sanctuary in Manhattan’s public spaces, the danger of the cranes overhead, this is the most unsettling aspect of writing, the reflecting, what I find inside, remembering what I wanted to forget so long ago. To quote Jodie Foster from her 2013 Golden Globes speech: “It’s like a home-movie nightmare that just won’t end.” It might appear cute to others, but it is utterly stupid, half-baked and wretched, so much so that I’m even willing to consider the notion presented in the film Looper, that of killing off this version of myself…just to get rid of it, the cringing, the inadvertent shivers, the denial. It’s almost a thought and then it isn’t. The truth is that I hate guns, and that, in the end, like Alvy Singer, “I have to keep going through it because I need the eggs.”
It is nerving to see Downtown Manhattan resemble a nesting ground for these cranes.
No matter how well these things might be functioning, I must admit to half-expecting one of them to “fall like a dinosaur” at any moment. I look forward to the day when they find another place to roost.