I may never be a famous writer. But right now, thanks to one guy’s clever idea, I can share my writing, my self, with a diaspora of friends and with people I’ve never met who live in places I might not visit. And I can do this anytime, from just about anywhere in the world. This is Facebook. I have made fun of it. I’ve thought it somehow wasn’t real. Facebook won’t satisfy like face-to-face interaction, but, man alive, Facebook is powerful. Facebook is awesome.
Right now I can tell you that it’s hot and sticky in New York, and it’s even hotter in the belly of the city, ‘way down beneath the sidewalks. Even a jam-packed subway car will be cool and refreshing, because of air conditioning: thank the good Lord above for giving us Willis Carrier. Any subway car will be loaded with possibilities, just as the sidewalks are and Facebook is.
Yesterday on the platform I saw a man bat his son on the head with a newspaper. They’d shared something on the screen of a phone, and then they laughed. Their play really touched me. The kid had stringy, messy long hair; his dad’s was cropped very close, and he hadn’t shaved in a couple of days. Neither was terribly concerned with fashion. The kid was in the throes of those goofy awkward teenage years. He looked as if he’d been sleeping in his clothes. His dad was one of the coolest guys I’ve yet seen: he’d created shorts from a pair of pants by cutting off the legs. He was audacious and nonchalant enough to wear them in public, right here in New York, where the guys are more fashion-conscious than the girls. These two were having a great time. They understood each other. I wanted them to induct me into their family, right then and there.
I have witnessed some tender intimacy on subway cars: couples kissing, talking quietly with each other, clearly in love and enjoying the chance for a unique bit of intimacy. How would that feel, I wonder, to have a tender impulse of love emerge in a packed-to-the-rafters subway car? Would I be reticent? Or would the dam simply break? Perhaps love needs the test of the jostle, bump and grind of the subway, among others. I long to discover more about love.
It’s hard, I tell you, it’s hard to see all the life in this city, especially the intimate moments, and not be deeply touched, because I’m still recovering from a recent round of unrequited love, among other stuff. Some days I feel an acute pain, as I imagine we all have. Though it hurts like hell, it doesn’t last. I’m more emotionally transparent than most people, though I’m getting much better at holding myself just on the threshold of tears. If I ever get to do some acting, some real acting, I imagine that holding ability will serve me nicely.
So the humans of New York are my teachers, especially the folk who work in the lunch places and shops. They stand behind the counters all the live-long day, greeting people, ringing them up, obliging their every request. They are so bright, so cheerful, so happy and just plain beautiful. How do they smile through that job every day? Taking a page from their book, I give them my smile and an enthusiastic greeting. I change their world for a brief moment. Magic happens. Most people already know this stuff. I have had to re-learn it. Thank God the lesson is taking.
Then there are the homeless, the helpless, the maimed or the downtrodden, with their cardboard signs asking for help. On the sidewalks I have seen people who you’d think would have very little motivation, and even less ability, to move from wherever they sleep at night—if they sleep at night—to the spot where I find them with their bundles and their begging cups and their exhausted, sleeping dogs or cats, and they fill me with wonder. They fill me with awe. I give them some cash, or half a large sandwich and my smile, and I grab their shoulder and shake it. I want to touch them both physically and emotionally. Sometimes they smile as brightly as do movie stars, as could many people more fortunate.
It is profoundly humbling to walk among the people of this city. New York is a continent in itself, the place the world beyond America thinks of first when it thinks “America.” You are one of millions here. You are not nearly as special as you think you are in those strange moments when you overinflate yourself so you won’t feel low. C’mon, admit it: we all do this. We imagine we’re great artists or great writers or photographers or great salesmen or attorneys, whatever it is we do, but none of those is nowhere near who we are. Those things are just what we do, or used to do, or want to do, not who we are.
The election nonsense is going on for far too long. Months ago I’d had more than enough of it. I was naive enough to think that Bernie had a chance. Then the corruption reared its ugly head, and I gave up. And the news is abysmal, except for news from Julian Assange and Wikileaks. Very little of it is actionable information, unless it moves you to think up a solution to save the world, which I don’t believe anyone has yet done. I am hungry for more satisfying fare; I will have to prepare it myself. I walk around this city and I feel all these emotions as I see all this amazing life. What good is feeling all that and keeping it inside?
So that’s how I like to use Facebook, to share something personal, hoping that it makes your life a little richer or it allows you to see that what you feel is much like what I feel. We are not all that different from each other. In some moments today, we may like to hold onto some bits of who we were yesterday, just to reassure ourselves that we’re still intact. There’s comfort in that. But why not let some of those bits loose to scrub and smooth your soul, to wash away something you’d like to abandon. Your life, your very body, is truly a river. Keep a record of one day’s worth of thoughts and emotions. You’ll see how much you change in the course of a single day.
Here in NY I can’t get in my nice clean air conditioned car and drive by my lonesome exactly where I want to go. Here I’m away from my cat and my nice clean house and the awesome, other-worldly quiet of rural Iowa. Here I hardly know anyone and hardly anyone knows me. I’m alone a lot. I get lost a lot. I get all confused and turned inside out when I ascend to the light of day after a long subway ride. It’s a shock to go from the quiet of the library back out onto the streets, to hear the great roar of the crowd and become a cow in a herd on the sidewalk. I still can’t believe the sheer numbers of people here—and I’ve been to India, where there are 1.2 BILLION people in a third the land mass of the US. That, folks, is density. But New York certainly doesn’t lack.
And you know what I wonder about, what keeps hitting me? The absolutely amazing amount of chewing gum on the sidewalks and whether it ever goes away.
I, too, will never truly go away from here, because whatever happens, the place has a place in my heart. New York sticks just like chewing gum.