Saturday, May 12, 2012

Walking the dog

It has struck me before, the sensation that I can't tell if it is very late or very early. The house is dark and the air is still. I feel my way around. The mockingbird has begun to perform, so it must be around four o'clock. I need something cold to drink. If I could remember things as they happened, I would write a memoir, but I can't. My imagination fills in details all the time. And if I were writing in real time -- what is it, real time? -- this would be a journal or a diary. But I'm not and it's not. Which isn't to say that what I write isn't true. It is. As far as I can make out.

The living room light is on across the street. My far out elderly neighbor Sweet Lou is as real as Sancho Panza. He believes that germs come out of the ground and that’s why people get sick when it gets warm in the winter. He’s in his eighties but he still smokes his De Nobilis. He sits on his stoop not two blocks from the house he was born in and listens to my stories about the book business. The old toad grunts and nods as if he's getting it but I'm pretty sure he doesn't know what I'm talking about. He calls me "Sonny." Me, fifty-eight years old. Someone switches it off.

My knowledge is imperfect and incomplete, as all human knowledge must be. I miss things and I misinterpret things. My reasoning is often false. No effin handrails. I take people at face value and discover that they contain hidden depths. I look for mysteries lurking beneath the surface of things and discover that what I see is what I get. The fact that I am in the picture -- the slipperiest of notions, that "I" -- makes it a bit unreal, no?

Some mornings the mockingbird's routine wakes me up and drives me nuts. Other days I'm happy to have his company. Today I barely register his melodies. Yesterday Y. asked me where my home is. We had just seen Patience (After Sebald), a movie in which someone remarks that only children have a home. I said I couldn't be sure. I do know that when I fly into Newark or Laguardia or Kennedy after a long trip and see New York below me as we're landing I feel like I'm coming home. There's comfort and familiarity in the skyline and the topography. I like the way the rivers empty into the harbor.

I've lived around here for most of my life. I don't know why. To have the people I love nearby? To carry genes and memes on behalf of the species? To work and to worship? Sometimes I think staying put in one place is an act of worship. Everything I need is here. I just wish it wasn't so expensive.

The problem of consciousness haunts me and not just in the wee wee hours. I sense its contradictions in my everyday perception of the world but I'm not smart enough to tackle it in any kind of objective way. Instead I sample the philosophic and scientific literature and content myself with glimpses and hints at what the mind might consist of. A ganglion of nerve cells, a computer program, a soul, all three. It's hard to tell.

I acknowledge the power of science but it has its limits, otherwise I wouldn't be in the dark. I am continually seduced by art but it too has its limits -- ecstasy is fleeting. One thing I'm sure of: the dichotomy between the two is false. Humans make things up -- formulae and poetry come from the same source. Two beautiful attempts to portray reality.

Lou buried his wife twenty-two years ago. He lives with his unmarried schoolteacher daughter. "Any day I open my eyes and see the ceiling is a good day as far as I'm concerned, sonny." Every morning shortly after six he walks his dog, a shepherd mix of some sort. They're out there like clockwork, rain or shine. The dog leads, his avid snout inches above ground, while Lou follows with his head down. They go about half a mile down to the clubhouse where the dog chases the geese off the lawn. Then they turn around and head home. Walking too can be a means of worship.

If I stay awake a little longer I'll catch them.

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