Monday, October 03, 2005
She is a graduate student at Columbia University. She has brown skin and long, curly black hair. She is as tall as me; maybe a little taller in her heels. She carries a bookbag and a notepad. We are standing together on the corner of Wayne Street, and she is interviewing me about my writing -- not for a magazine, she tells me, but for a class project. The woman wants to know the scope of my disengagement from Jersey City. Behind us, the sun is setting over City Hall, throwing a long rectangular shadow over Grove Street.
We begin to walk toward City Hall. I do not like to go this way, I tell her, but I find myself compelled to move in this direction. I mention that trips to my vegetable market cause me to walk on Grove Street. Secretly, this isn't what I mean. The crowd is pouring out of Council Chambers. They are jubilant; they have just secured a victory in the battle to preserve the Sixth Street Embankment. They walk to the roadside and take a sharp left toward me, chattering and smiling. It is as it was on a day I cut class, and found myself on Mountain Avenue outside of the high school just as the three o'clock bell rang. I did not want to be in the building -- and yet as I watched my schoolmates from across the road, I felt the ghost's longing for corporeality.
Bodies pass me. I recognize the activist Mia Scanga, always a vocal presence at City Council meetings. Kathryn Klanderman, former president of ProArts, calls me by a name I don't recognize. She walks with a woman whose face is veiled. I turn to introduce Kathryn to the graduate student, but to my embarrassment, I have forgotten her name.
Paul Sullivan takes me aside; he is jubilant. He will be hosting an arts tour of his own in the Heights, and he would like me to provide music. I am suddenly overwhelmed with guilt about my decision to skip this year's Studio Tour to play the New England Popfest. I ask him about what I've missed. He is enthusiastic about the popular response to the tour, and about the new studios that have opened on Jersey Avenue. The art itself he dismisses as "Knitting Factory stuff".
I find this glibness uncharacteristic of Paul. But then City Hall looks different, too -- taller, more ornate, capped with golden domes. A young woman on the marble steps dressed like a stewardess hands out brochures. The facade is grey and imposing, and fills me with fear. For a moment, I worry that I will be arrested. I realize that this must not be Jersey City Hall at all, but instear it must be a museum or civic building in Manhattan: perhaps a courthouse, or a train station.
Sure enough, our railcar begins to move. There is art everywhere: on the walls of the car, on coffeetables, on the covers of periodicals. I pick up a magazine and look at the cover. A woman who looks like Martha Stewart is stretched out in bed. Her body is covered by a thin white sheet. The pose is sexualized, but she appears to be in terrible pain. Paul explains that the photographer used to be a Jersey City local, but has since left for the wine country.
This is a commuter train. We have gone into the city upon the request of my old high school friend Steve Barison, who I have not seen in some time. We are here for a Pixies doubleheader: first, we have seen the Pixies in concert, then we went to see a screening of a movie about the Pixies. The movie, which was not good, was Steve Barison's idea. So many of my high school friends crowd into the railcar. We are returning to New Jersey as twilight falls. I am reminded of a trip I took with these friends when I was very young: to Madison Square Garden to watch Peter Gabriel perform. I remember the frenetic banter on the way back, the fevered comparison of our internal experiences, the slickness of the train windows and the sick yellow color of the seats.
Our train ducks through tunnels. We are laughing and joking. I do not want the car to reach New Jersey -- I want to go on laughing and joking in this cabin as long as we can. Steve Barison's face is clouded, obscured. I tell a joke, and a person I don't recognize at the back of the car begins to laugh inappropriately. What's so funny?, I demand to know. I become angry. Suddenly, I am preaching straight from the Book of Romans. Bible in hand, I speak of sin and salvation. We shall all be restored in the fullness of time, I tell my friends. With each passing trestle, the light in the railcar grows dimmer.