Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A little knowledge

I'm sitting here in the kitchen -- thunder outside, just like in that Dylan tune -- trying to figure out how many of the worlds I inhabit are worth attending to. I'm listening to Ben Webster play "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" through Klipsch earbuds. My iTunes library comprises 14.92 gigabytes of information, 8.3 days of music and spoken word. I remember most of what's in there but less and less each day. The overhead fan is turning against the humid air and, of course, it reminds me of the overhead fan in Apocalypse Now, which in turn reminds me, as Coppola intended it to, of a helicopter, too many of which litter the skies above New York, where I work. I first saw Apocalypse Now at the Zeigfeld Theater on 54th Street, the version without a credit roll. Instead, patrons were given a printed program, just like in a real theater. New York City is a real theater. Always has been filled with actors.

I try to work it out, the worth of these worlds of mine. There's the New York knowledge industry. Everybody's a leftie with money. Or at least the wherewithal to pretend that they've got enough money to warrant disdaining it whenever they're invited to feast off its fruits. Another way of thinking about the publishing industry: hey mac -- it's a fucking business. But money doesn't matter if you're connected. The New York knowledge industry is a world of connections. Same think connected to same speak connected to same shite. For too many of us, the wiring's gone bad. These actors need a new script; the one they're using is decades old.

New York used to be a cinematic world but it's digital now. Sometimes I think its sole inhabitant is Cindy Sherman. I remember her as Janet Leigh. I remember her as the 50-foot woman. Wasn't she Jackie O? I see her all the time on the way to work. I remember Jackie O, walking through Central Park on her way to editing Diana Vreeland's Allure. What a book! They don't make 'em like that any more, bud. Cindy Sherman was born a few months after me. I can't believe she's fifty-eight too. I've been reading about her big exhibit at MOMA. But I don't have to go to a museum to see Cindy's images. I see them every day.

I may work in the City but I live in northwest Jersey. Cindy was born in Jersey. And even if her parents lived in a better neighborhood than this, it was still worlds away from the New York knowledge industry. Up here, everybody's a gun-toting conservative living from paycheck to paycheck. You think I'm exaggerating? C'mon up, poot, and get a little taste of tea. These people have got real concerns -- the price of gas, the failure of the school system, the feeling that everything's being taken away from them. They just want to be left alone for a few hours a week so they can ramble a bit and shoot off some steam. Get in their Camaros and F-150s and blast some tunes. Maybe a hit of Rammstein. They may appear disconnected to the urban sophisticates in the New York knowledge industry but they've got their own grid: the clubhouse, the church, the firing range, getting paid off the payroll, the barter economy, flea markets, pig roasts, mysterious outings into northern Pennsylvania. Some serious shite's going down out there in the Alleghenies.

The world of thought, the world of feeling. The world of science, the world of art. The mind-body problem. Which reminds me of Rebecca Goldstein's fine short book on Spinoza. Which leads me to Isaac Bashevis Singer's short story "The Spinoza of Market Street." Singer would come into the bookstore on Fifth Avenue every so often and sign copies of his Collected Stories, a monumental volume published by Farrar Straus Giroux. This was the early 1980s, when there were six bookstores between 48th Street and 57th Street on Fifth. If we weren't at the very center of the New York knowledge industry, we were pretty damn close to it. And all the women looked like Cindy Sherman and all the men looked like Carter Burden.

The thunder has headed out over the Island. Ben is now playing "Our Love is Here to Stay." A beautiful sentiment. An effin dream. And I think to myself, if I could somehow know in advance when it will be exactly 8.3 days until my death, I could listen to my entire iTunes library once through before the curtain comes down.

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