The following is from a series of musings on trauma, memory, community, and place. The introduction to the series and beginning essay [link] explains the purpose of this month of entries.
I don’t remember my university years very fondly.
I think we are led to believe that leaving home leads to opening up of horizons.
I believe the New Jersey–dialect translation of which goes something like: “Baby we were born to run. . .”
My dorm floor my first year in college quickly broke itself down based on dialect and class.
By dialect I mean to say “nearest major urban center to one’s suburban hometown”.
Like Boston, or New York, or Chicago.
You know, back in the days when there was such a thing as local culture.
And yet media identification was with the nearest large city.
The beginnings of the inexorable slide.
By class I mean to say “the comparative affluence of one’s school district”, for want of a better way to describe it.
The problem with “university” as escape is that it re-creates an exact duplicate in microcosm of previously lived “small-town” prejudices and differences.
The university is often centered in the middle of those without access to its hallowed halls.
While simultaneously making great claims of being part of the “community”.
This is the mythology of cosmopolitanism.
This is the lie of multiculturalism.
Extremely tiring for those who don’t quite “fit”.
Yet who are led to imagine that somewhere there is a place for them.
I have made a great habit of leaving along these lines.
First I left for a university in upstate New York.
Two years later I left there for one in New York City.
A year after that I left for yet another university–this one in France.
The voyage to arrive there was on the Queen Elizabeth II.
I traveled with a student I knew from school who was going home.
Tickets were half price for those our age.
Given all I was bringing with me it was a cheaper alternative.
It sounds quite grandiose.
But it was, ironically, an economically-driven decision.
A cheaper alternative, if that is even believable.
In any case, it was made quite obvious to us we were interlopers.
We didn’t come with personal haberdasheries.
We didn’t sport Mason ties or kilts or tuxes or spatterdash.
The gazed reminder of this became quite painful.
Especially as there was no escape.
My guiding imperative at any given time on that ship was avoidance of contact, whether verbal, visual, or physical.
While simultaneously doing everything in my power to blend in.
A chameleon’s charade.
This pretty much describes my younger years.
Always looking for something better somewhere else.
Instead of the possible better something else where I was.
Intersecting parallel universes existed on the ship.
First there were the passengers, all of a certain class.
Then there were the workers, shadows of those above.
They were our age, and would hang out in our cabin.
Until such a time that this might be noticed.
There was no work for them in their towns.
So they found employ in a floating city.
They were one level above the slaves.
Who took the form of tiny men.
Who were also brown like me.
And quite far from home.
Hatches in strategic parts of the ship’s architecture would from time to time open up.
Hordes of ship hands would pour forth to occupy the passenger dimension of the ship for a few brief seconds.
Not unlike phantom other-dimensional beings allowed to manifest corporeally for a few minutes at a time in the so-called real world.
The shadowcasters are hardly aware of these truer presences.
The shadowcasters are, in fact, artificial additions to the realm.
They remove themselves from “street” reality.
Their affectation is designed to distance and alienate.
I recognize these sad affectations for having tried them all on for size.
Which makes the continued presence of those so affected all the sadder.
For just a few examples, recalled from my days in New York City:
Those Sex-in-the-City girls in baby dresses and high heels.
Attempting to maneuver garbage-strewn cobblestone streets.
Those Wall-Street-the-Movie boys in Oxfords and chinos.
Looking up brunch recommendations on their “smart” phones.
On the streets of the Lower East Side on Sunday morning.
Where they were throwing up or urinating publicly the night before.
Those Seinfeld-diner kids who don’t understand that the “New York” they are so excited to visit in fact exists thousands of miles away.
On a Los Angeles soundstage.
Where they speak a foreign dialect.
That California-TV talk.
It’s really an endless list.
And so I won’t waste your time.
I will say that I’m not sure I can think of someone more mindless and selfish than he who owns a theater, who then demands the stage for himself, and moreover reserves seats only for those he knows.
I hope that this even makes sense.
In any event, true culture is manifested from below.
Not super-mediated and imposed from above.
It doesn’t announce itself in any way.
Something “true” along these lines involves the quite impossible.
Listening for the unsaid.
Seeking the unseen.
In this regard, New York has become a pathetic parody of itself.
A Las Vegas–style simulation.
I remember once visiting Las Vegas.
I took a bus to get away from the Strip.
Which reminded me of the casino-destroyed Atlantic City.
Where people barely eke out existence catering to those gambling away money they don’t have.
The driver was discussing the new “New York, New York” casino.
With its disproportional “skyscrapers”.
And its roller coaster.
All of which he said was designed to be: “Really real”.
I listened in awestruck disbelief.
Image: Fourth of July, Lower East Side | Date: 2002 | Place: East 6th Street | Camera: Lomo LC-A 35mm/1986 | Caption: Image taken from the rooftop of a friend’s apartment using long-exposure option of the Lomo LC-A.