Saturday, July 21, 2012

The view from the 24th floor

I'm looking down onto 33rd Street from my office window thinking, cripes it's hard to be an individual -- in the good old Wild West American sense of the word, the solo human being silhouetted against the big bright sky, packing heat, chawing tabac, squinting into empty space, clearly something on his mind, most likely gold, maybe the pursuit of happiness -- when you're living in an anthill. You and eight million other ants. Everybody walking away from Penn Station in the morning, everybody walking toward Penn Station in the evening. And when the rain comes, a simultaneous opening of umbrellas. It's sweet choreography, I'll grant you. I half expect some of those critters down there crossing Fifth Avenue to break into song. Whistle While You Work.

Looking north, I see one of those effin police choppers has positioned itself over the east side, hovering above the UN. Thwacking the air with its blades. Goddamn noise. From up there, the anthill pulsates like one organism. No way they can see the individual corpuscles in the city's blood even with all that high-tech surveillance equipment they carry. They're just up there for effect, to scare the ants into staying on the move. Security they jokingly call it, the theater of the absurd, the same effin show they've got running out at the airports where those wage slaves in uniform pat you down.

If this were a movie, the director would call for a close-up shot so the audience could see the hero threading his way through the crowd. Like Jimmy Stewart in North by Northwest. On the lam and the whole world on his tail. But up here there is no camera, just the naked eye. There are no visible heroes. If this were a movie, it would be a movie about ants. The kind of movie E. O. Wilson might make, him with his sociobiological view of human culture. All long shots. Just follow the script written in your genes, poot. And keep acting till you croak. If you can't supply the meaning yourself, there ain't none.

Maybe ants is a bad analogy. Maybe sheep is better. Looking down from the 24th floor, one can almost believe Herald Square is a big holding pen. Now the herd is heading toward Macy's, a few minutes later, it's off to the Empire State Building they go. I can almost hear their bleating above the siren-and-jackhammer symphony. It echoes between tall buildings and quavers in the hot dirty air like a badly tuned radio. And, of course, the helicopter solo blares out above it all. No wonder the sheep wear earphones.

Down underground where the National Guard troops stand watch, the sheep become ants again. You see them going up and down the stairs. They stand in line at the ticket vending machines, anxiety pouring off of 'em like sweat. Every so often one of 'em stares into the closed circuit video camera and gives it the finger. Racing toward the turnstiles. Dashing toward the open doors of the subway car. Shouldering enormous backpacks full of working gear. Wearing the uniform anonymity of the colony. From up here they're faceless.

If I switch my perspective, I can see my reflection in the glass. The owlish eyes, the white hair, the soft belly, the quizzical expression. In a few minutes, I'll join the throng down there, one of the millions, just enough dough in my wallet to make it through the week, just enough rubber on my soles to withstand the hot hard pavement and metal station steps. We're in this together, poot, aren't we? Which fact should provoke profound sentiments of fellow feeling, but just leads to a numbing fatigue instead. Like everybody else, I will get off the train at the other end of the ride -- somewhere out across the river -- and find my way home -- fuck the square footage, it's still mine, what piece of it the bank doesn't own -- and expect to miraculously turn back into an individual. The food I eat, the sites I visit, the soap, the smells, the clothes in the drawer, the photos of loved ones, hell, the books on my shelves. Look at all this shite -- it must belong to an individual, right?

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