Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The broken clock

In ruins, the abandoned greenhouses of Florida, and beyond the messy cottages, the black dirt lies fallow. The onions are gone and I feel like a man carrying a clock that no longer tells time. I put the car into low gear coming down the slick hill and hold steady to the right near the drainage ditch. The clock makes a flurry of uneven ticking sounds then stops. What a burden, to live so near such fertile soil used so sparely, so close to the big city. In the distance, a group of Mexicans huddles near an old van. Mamacita selling tacos in the cold. I am torn between believing I belong here and knowing full well that I am the alien, a man who has lived among words and business plans more easily than on the land.

In the hills above the watershed young people are skiing and snowboarding, their Jeeps filling the parking lots, their laughter and monosyllabic conversation echoing amid the evergreens. Young and alive and heedless of the weather. Soon the lights will come on, illuminating the slopes, and they will continue to jam on into the night. Ride up and slide down, again and again. Reveling in the healthy fatigue that follows, the bone-tiredness, no mind at work. Clean, the physical activity better than meditation.

It's supposed to get cold as the year turns over. Flurries and a close-hooded low sky. Anxious planes headed into Newark before the big storm hits. I drive on toward Unionville and beyond that, Port Jervis. I once tried to visit the salmon smokehouse on Jersey Avenue in that distressed town but the business was closed for the weekend. It remained a magazine article, a myth, purveyor to Russ and Daughters, Fairway, Whole Foods, the owner a guy from Africa. It was hard to credit the incongruity of its location.

Jersey Avenue runs parallel to the Delaware River up toward the Port Jervis train station, the last stop on NJ Transit's Main Line, more than a two hour trip to New York. There are people up here who have never been to the city. The tri-state town looks stricken today, half the commercial buildings vacant, sidewalks empty, Pennsylvania across the river with its bustling Walmart and car dealerships, loud and ugly I-84 running from Newburgh to Scranton, two disorderly towns inviting avoidance. Drugs, poverty, chaos. I spend a few minutes each morning reading the Sussex County police blotter -- Christ there are so many heroin addicts and blasted lives up here. No wonder kids with expensive college degrees flock to Brooklyn. It's effin safe down there, even if they're talking that mannered, incomprehensible jive of theirs.

Perhaps too safe. I'm tired of the enervating culture surrounding the production and selling of books. I'm tired of lists. Of pretending that we are witnessing the death of literature -- yet again! -- or, worse, its morphing into something as trite and evanescent as Twitter. I don't want my sociability mediated. I want to see who I'm talking to. I want to hear them and smell them and touch them. I'm sixty years old in the flesh. For me, there is no mind-body problem except death, the death of both, the death that keeps coming closer. With Lanier I declare, "I'm not a gadget." I'll never be one to meld with a machine. Life is tragic except when it's funny. Machines are neither.

There's nothing doing in Unionville or in the savage hills surrounding it where people like you and me keep trying to live in a cold inhospitable world, their little dwellings braced against the wind, their cheap vehicles half-filled with gas, ready to escape when the shit hits the fan. Provisional lives. Immeasurable griefs. Gathered around the kitchen table staring at a stack of bills -- Christ the mail brings so many bills -- wondering how in the world they're going to make it through another month, let alone a year. Maybe get a job working for the bank. Clean out foreclosed houses and auction off the contents. Take the good shit and try to make an extra buck or two. If we can only get through the winter…

I feel like I'm driving around with a corpse in the trunk. The end of the year. And no where to bury it except in my bloody heart.

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