Please note: written in March 2000!! Seems like a million years ago, but then, more like yesterday. Thoughts formulated all before that fateful September day that changed the landscape of America's collective thought process.
NOTES FROM NEW YORK CITY
I have a feeling. This feeling that this city is burning. The city is burning in the underneath of the underground. Under the skin of the 5th Avenue curve, up to the 135th Street spine. I smell smoke from the interior passages of the sidewalk, alleys, by-ways under the concrete. I smell smoke in the veins of the black man with the backpack and the baggy trousers who is accused of lurking and sneaking, slinking and peering, prying and peeling. I taste soot from the burning that takes place in the cells of the young women standing on 125th Street with their small children straddling hips and laps, holding tight, holding close. The embers are only beginning when simply standing becomes an offence and suddenly the ground beneath our feet erupts and a fissure allows air to escape. I'm trying to breath while I watch the fire catch the next one passing. He is just as hot and ready to explode with the beauty of volcanic ash peppering the skin, blistering flesh. Enough is enough, you see. The spaces in between the street, the pores of our faces, the hollows of the trees, each small of architecture in our minds pulses a little bit of fire in order to understand, in order to combust, in order to see clear once more. Smoke does get in your eyes these New York City March days.
The underground fizzles with air pressure contained and cautioned. 41 shots above can only spark this thrust below. It's rising up slow, and it's happening. The core of the earth, right here in the New York City is tingling, twirling the layers. And you know there are a lot of layers down there. And below the layers you get toward something else. Another place underneath the underground. You don't believe me do you? Place your cheek to the ground, let the heat bleed into a soft Cover-Girl blush. What's happening below is a sign of the above. And that is not about a make-up line.
No one really cares though. That's ok. This is a wasteland that needs to burn. See, between the gorgeous pink depravity of pure consumption here, to the point of overflow and bulimic fashion-week throw up, there is just no stopping the spewing. I mean, shop til you drop is now, "shop til you're dead". The concept of "enough" doesn't exist. There is no critique of "wealth" at this point in America. One out of every 40 Americans is a millionaire. "And what would you like for your birthday little Bobby?" How about a DOT COM company? America is consumed by a culture of money and bullets. I think a one hundred dollar bill with a bullet on it would make a cool emblem. Meanwhile, back in the underground, cops kill til they vomit because they were scared of black wallets in the pocket of slinking black men in vestibules in the Bronx. Because of the fear there is murder with 41 bullets. Fear equals 41 bullets. If you're not a DOT COMER rushing on the speed injected, methadrine hallucination of "more and more and more" you're a working class kinda persona who struggles each week to pay the rent and have enough in your pocket to get by. Enough in your black wallet that is mistaken for a gun. They blushed when they were acquitted I'm sure. They don't feel the heat churning in their souls spinning a beautiful shroud for them when the time comes. But they will one day see it. There will be no smoky eyes then. Trust me, justice will come but not in the way we expect it. In this thought there is fire. Sometimes a beautifully horrific fire. These things take time and much patience. We all return to the site of the crime, in one way or another. And that is usually when you get invited into the underneath.
Above there is a Harlem Nocturne blazing. I'm watching a PBS Special about the history of New York and I'm grooving in the collective memory of New York City's skyline. The Triangle Shirtwaist fire is mentioned, described and obviously represented as a horror that changed Tammany Hall and that changed the landscape of the city's politics in 1911. Working conditions were appalling, similar to the ones that still continue in various third world economies, yet still so close to us here, (example, Kate Spade bag workers protesting because of conditions today!). It was a fire that kicked it in. It was the sacrifice of 146 Yiddish working girls slaving away at the sewing machines, doors locked to prevent union organizers from strolling in, fire pounding and the only way out was jumping or burning. Only after this fire would the NYC government listen and create new legislation and act upon the injustice. Because of this fire, Al Smith was elected who immediately led the reform movement and made a clean sweep of all the corrupt muck of Tammany Hall. But there had to be a fire first.
I recall an article I read about Paris in the 1840's and it's so called urban death of the old and the incoming wonder of the unknown. Walter Benjamin characterized the state of "sadness about what was and the lack of hope for what is to come". The French photographer Nadar took photos of Paris from a hot air balloon in 1858. One can sense from the aerial image a sense of the cities circulation and movement and its arteries and veins transfusing a heated change. There is a process of transition and we sense it through that feeling of "heat". The city of Paris from above in 1858 and the image of a New York City street painted on ancient film at ground level, the lower east side 1910, little children waving into the camera, the pace, the rhythm flowers in fast motion, and yet all seems so slow, almost deadly slow, that remembrance seems deadly. Both images one from above, one from below, scream with a preservation of life standing still and death is the only truth hidden beneath each celluloid remnant. The city falls into it's own death.
New York City is not dying. The urban scream is hot and ready to ignite. The city is more than alive. The city calls for more sacrifice to fuel the fire and only until fully stoked will there be pure immolation and the "gods" will be pleased. Is that when the so called "change is gonna come"? The one Nina Simone howls out, because we are needing it more than soon! Something's got to give! That is why I keep smelling ash, tasting it in my mouth and why my building keeps shaking twice in the night and twice in the day. I've been counting.
I'm sinking, vacating myself. Falling into the rabbit hole, to play chess with the Alice and the Mad Hatters of NYC and the cops with 41 bullets in their hands. It's all in the underworld if you would like to see it. Just take my hand and come with me. It's free. You don't have to give me a dollar or a bullet to gain entrance. I'll take you, only if you ask me. Call me by my name so I appear again. That is the only way we'll go under.
They don't see me, because I've decided to disappear and make myself invisible. I've decided to decipher the riddles of this city. Someone calling out my name will make me whole again. The ones who find me and catch me and hold me close are the winners of the jackpot. The ones who return me to my rightful owner. I'm just a wild animal like the ones who shoot 41 bullets. I'm the mistake. I'm the error. But no one admits guilt. That's the riddle. That's the funny part, I guess. But because I'm the error, I can see behind appearances. I can also take you below the streets, below the sewers, deeper and deeper. Someday I'll take them down, slinking and peering, to show them the evidence. And then maybe the truth will be told. But you have to go under to have the gift of "sight".
Now, unlike the new SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, you won't need those 3D glasses, but some protection over your eyes will help you. How about a blindfold. How about a hangman's hood, made of lead and flame retardant? If you see too much, you won't be able t come back. Trust me, I know. You can also lose an eye, an arm or a soul. It's so easy down here in the deep. The truth always makes you lose something of yourself. That's why you'll need the protection. You did want to see it, didn't you? We can always reschedule if another appointment comes up, don't worry. I understand. There are always the ones who stall and postpone the truth. Just too much to see. To comprehend.
These frequent journeys to the underworld realms has inspired me to design a line of outfits for the trip. I mean, why go under in something plain and drab when you can have colour, spark and pizzazz. Because it will all burn anyway when you come up for air! Like I said, fire is on its way and can never be too ready. Couture lead? Ready to wear, big time! I'm telling you, fire is the next great trend. "Hey girl, what are you wearing tomorrow?" "Like baby I'm doing fire, pure and simple, a hot flame ready to take everything in its way and turn you out".
Even in fire, there is a sense you have arrived too late. These days, I feel like the golden days I experienced in the 80's are truly gone. Replaced now with something that seems to only destroy this city. Just greed, pure and simple. Gotta have more and more and more! Us gatekeepers are having a hard time. When you get to the crossroads, most people turn back. They can't be bothered with all the hoopla. They don't want to look too close or look further down. Gotta keep your eye on the prize and never look back. Also who can be bothered with special outfits. Most people don't want to see what we have on offer "down there" anyway.
I've been at the vanishing point for a while now. When you get there, that is when you can become a gatekeeper. There is nothing else that you can do. You seem to get smaller and smaller in an optical illusion sort of way. You know if you look at a dot for too long in a painting it will vanish. I'm still here, wandering and peering and slinking, but you just can't see me. Sometimes I appear as an illusion, but mostly I'm real. As real as these new females you can order from REALDOLL.COM. "Doll" has several heads that you can choose from and body types. She even comes with her own CD for moaning and groaning necessity. I may even order one. She sounds good to me these days. Quality females looking for other quality females today is almost an impossible delicacy to attain, but that is for another essay. Let's just focus on disappearance because it's a good thing.
Sometimes you can see the ones that are on their way toward disappearance. Like the boy in Vitamin Quota the other day. He was well on his way. Tall, lanky, skinny he whispered in my ear, "You better get out of here". I wondered what he meant. He was trying to communicate his prediction of some upheaved event like an earthquake, or something of that explosive nature. He seemed very sure and he had that look in his eye and that tone in his voice. HE KNEW. I think he won't be in the store next week, on route toward falling into another frequency.
I think I'm awaiting the return of some sort of a "messiah". All of a sudden I have this flash of nostalgia. In the burning NYC underneath I see these young black men. I see them with fists worn in from the clasp and the wave in the air. They have the hottest t-shirts and hair and simply stand regal in the eye of the storm. They have a kingdom to rescue, they are part of a warrior clan and the time has come for their return. I'm looking for the Black Panthers. See, the hero as to return to free his kingdom. The Celtic warrior fought with no fear of death for the afterlife offered glory. In the tales of Arthur, the quest is for freedom, liberation and enlightenment through many ordeals. The tests were feats of courage and prowness, skills at arms, magical powers, the hero was a superhuman in every respect. Watching Jim Jaramush's GHOST DOG, the director uses the code of the samurai warrior in a similar way as the Celtic way of Arthur. But the hero here is an African American man in a hip hop Wu Tang milieu. There is a vibe going on here. I think the time is ripe and fruitful for a "return" of sorts. The return of resistance.
The men and women of the Panthers formed in response to the decimation and destruction of their people. A protection and a hope for revolution and change for something better. There is also chaos within the kingdom. Percevil finds the grail but does not achieve it. He fails the test and abandons faith. Betrayals, jealousies, rivalries breaking the circle up, splintering, abandoning ideals and hope and finally collapse. And the kingdom grows wild and overgrown, unkempt. Like now, we wait for the hero/heroes who will come once more.
The guardian of the gate between this life and the other world, to which entry is allowed only to the hero, the warrior paradise of glorious rewards. In Celtic society the ruling class was the warrior class and in order to gain entry into this world, the hero's mortality was challenged.
I wonder if the Black Panthers would reunite. Even for one night. I don't mean to sound trivial, like the reunion of PINK FLOYD. I know this sounds pathetic, but my intentions are truly genuine. It's just one deep oily night, when the tearing of earth can be felt under ones skin, when the acquittal of the blue man just makes you flip. I mean, I understand when women tears the hair out after a death in some Balkan and Slavic tribes. The outrage feels like a tear and a grab, to take back all that has been ripped from the guts. Don't ask me how they can do this. I only know that I dream of their return, like the return of the King to the wasteland that is now turning and spinning into something dry, parched and battered.
So something is in the air and even though this revolution won't be televised, something else will be happening. Something quite sublime, something quite under the ground and underneath the under. And I don't k now what I'm saying here but something is going to happen. After this nothing will be the same within each citizen of Nueva York Cuidad.
The sky is expanding, somehow the underneath wants to come up and make it self known. But you need a password and it's just not that easy, you know? I wish it were. I'm a gatekeeper. Along with the others. We'll guard what's under, we'll let the flames begin and watch for the return of the King. I know he'll come and maybe he will even be a she if we're lucky. This has nothing to do with religion, it has to do with the spirit and the soul and the issue of accountability and responsibility and karma. Cause and effect.
Let my landscape dry out after the burn. Somewhere in the desert sparks a life substance once more in another way with another method. Charred remains are what I have left. We need to walk through the wasteland. We need to be covered in ash from the leftovers of forgotten men who just try to make a living, doing the right thing and only get punishment, i.e. death for coming home and standing in a doorway. This we need to taste. We need to know just where life sprang up from and where it ends in the moment of black cloud raining down it's sacrifice. We need fire in order to see once more, given the blindness of our greedy mayor. This is a call to the spirits at the gate. They know what to do. And even New York's "finest" won't be able to do a thing.