Boots (Aftermath) / The Modern Smile

Half-dreaming of her, you go shopping for boots, because that’s apparently what one does to prepare for winter in autumn. But, here’s the kicker: like a lunatic, you do it during rush hour. Assassinated on Broadway, found out by the crowds, you get excreted, spat out, and sweat your way to a cobbled street in SoHo that is old Europe, and seems to give room to breathe. Outside a bookshop, in a slow-pacing, half-dreamy cigarette, you catch the first line of an autumn stillness that is other places, your old loves of Northern Iberia (she, and she, among friends with the Basque mullet and radical wiles, wide brown eyes smiling at you over zingy cider, firewater and coffee), linked to here through leaf mulch and the smell of apples in the chill, wood-smoke air that, for a second, smells like the Picos de Europa, or the Pyrenees.

Coming into the bookshop, the buzzer goes off: “do you have a library book in there, sir? You need to watch for that.”

Begin to sweat. Go to the coffee counter for a decaf —“ice coffee?” (they never get the accent here) — “no. Normal drip coffee.”

“We can make you a decaf Americano for 2.75$?”

No. Cede. Sigh: “Ok.”

Coffee, drip. Expensive tip. Sit.

“Excuse me, sir? We have an event tonight. We just want to let our patrons know they’re welcome to stay but we need to start moving chairs in 20 minutes.”

Look at your watch. Ah. There’s time.

Someone different comes back 10 minutes later, and says exactly the same thing: “Excuse me, sir? We have an event tonight. We just want to let our patrons know they’re welcome to stay but we need to start moving chairs in 20 minutes.”

In this life that passes for modern, you cede in a hundred different little ways. You just: cede, (or go insane). Down to the poetry section for some peace. (Because, apart from the woman with the long red hair behind the counter checking her emails, there’s nobody there, apart from you and a hundred thin, sleeping volumes.) Fondling Pessoa’s identities, you’re still thinking about how they smiled at you without seeing you, even as they looked you right in the eye: the smile a polite weapon ticking as they tell you the rules; not quite telling you that there are new rules. Conveying, as they tell you, that you are mad for not understanding the rules, these days, the new unspoken rules.

You remember what the old, bearded poet said during an afternoon salon of cans of Danish beer in his house in Dublin one winter day (you shivered to yourself at the time when you heard him say it, but half-understand him now). “Sometimes the paranoia is justified,” he grimaced.

Oh, and one last thing: once the buzzer from Porlock went off, you lost the poem.

Boots, contd. (and: Causing Stress for Others)

Went to buy boots. Liked, in theory, the Frye style (no, I’m not talking about the English actor / comedian); in practice, I didn’t like the narrow toe, the leather soles, the “styled” aspect of them: the way it felt like they were walking me, and would take an age to break in. So I went back to Shoe Mania on Broadway, near Lafayette, and tried on a pair of brown oxblood leather mid-calf length slip-on Doc Martens engineer boots, and bought them. Rubber soles. Going back to my ’80s roots, when the Central Bank forecourt in pre-gentrified Temple Bar in Dublin was a gaggle of goths, punks, skin heads, New Wave mod-spin offs: different tribes, all wearing variations on the single European currency of the Doctor Marten air cushioned sole.

Out onto the street again. Five o’clock. (Emm, why am I shopping during rush hour?) Funny how everyone in Manhattan dresses as if they’ve been styled: as if they’ve pre-thought every eventuality. (Even the guy selling the equivalent of the Big Issues has big aviator sunglasses on, transforming him into potential cyborg pimp / porn star, gang leader from The Warriors, or messianic character from Blade Runner; Buddhist technologist.) It’s actually slightly tiresome, even though it immediately makes me want to go out and “shop!” – as I have been doing. (There must be just one more accessory out there that’s essential to my latent identity, that will transform me into my future self.)

A car is right in the “cross walk”. People flow around it (truly, here, the pedestrian is prince, queen and king). Passive aggression and mischief dictate what I do next: I stop in front of the car, point to the walking man (which replaced the “Walk / Don’t Walk” some time ago), while I look in at the driver, a business man in a silver Lexus fighting his way uptown in 5 pm rush hour traffic. He immediately starts throwing himself around inside the cockpit, thrashing with Jewish / Italian-influenced New Yorker arms waving violently into the air. I throw up my arms in, “what are you going to do?” fashion, and cross, my heart rate raised by mutual venting. It feels disturbingly good. Maybe after he’s gone a few blocks he’ll think, “that asshole,” and smile to himself. Though, the smile isn’t all that likely.