Sunday, May 22, 2005

The Diaries of Arnon Grunberg (7)

A black man, in a faded black t-shirt and black jeans, shuffles toward me as I walk along the pavement. In his right he holds a makeshift carton box, folded in such a way, that the top covers his chest. His face prostrates behind the top of the carton. The top of his head is bald, the sides trimmed short, but long enough to look fuzzy-wuzzy.

As I approach him, I see him mumbling something, but with such an attempted kind voice, that he speaks too softly for me to hear what he’s saying from the five meters distance from which we still stand. I approach him swiftly.

“Excuse me?” with the typical willingness of the white man’s voice when he speaks to a poor black man, a tone too friendly to be real, but friendly enough to cover the historic guilt with which each white man is loaded without any personal wrong doing. The black man undoubtfully is aware of this overweight he holds, certainly, the man in front of me is.

His left hand slides up toward his throat’s Adam’s apple, and as if trying to grasp it, his fingers and thumb form a stiff grip. He waives his grip gently along his throat, bends his head slightly sidewards, like a dog begging, and repeats his murmur.

Standing beside him, I now see two large slices of pizza laying on the folded carton in his right hand.

“Sir, could you spare a dollar for a soda, my throat is so dry,” he begs while his left hand gesticulates still up and down along his throat.

I apologize, but I am unsure if I apologize for not wanting to help him, or if I seek an excuse to mankind for the type of beggar his character has become. I remember the other black males who beg in my neighborhood. They cultivate a culture of poverty because they are compelled to. They see a white person and their whole body shakes and their veins are filled with adrenaline to ask for a quarter, unable to resist until their breath and mouth forms those words of relief that sooths their minds. Only then are they calm again.

The black man in the wheelchair near the phone booth at Court Street. He has no special need to beg, it is just an extra income he generates. He sits and talks to his buddies, and careless of the passers-by he shakes his paper cup with some pocket money to rattle the passers’ attention. Or like the fat black man sitting near the Duane Reader on the brick wall, when the sun shines, he sits and enjoys the beams of light, and as he strikes a friendly eye, his compulsion to ask for a free quarter takes a hold of him. Or like the slender moustached black standing at the Citi bank’s entrance.

This is what they have become to regard as work. They get up in the morning, have a donut, a coffee and go to work. And like others, they get dressed for the occasion, they say goodbey to their wives, and there they stand. One works the corner of Court and Montague Street, the other holds office at the Citi bank, another is off to meet his buddies at the next corner, and while his buddies sell out-of-sale books, umbrellas, or sun-glasses, they shake their paper-cup. There is no lack of pride, no lost self-esteem, no dependency, this is how they make money.

And truely, who bends deeper for a buck? The white man locked up in his 3 by 4 cubicle, chained by a mortgage and the demands of a middle-class life, or the poor black man, who needs to answer no boss’ call than his inner compulsion to beg and hustle for every free quarter, and whose presence is disturbed by none, but the guilty eyes of the bourgeois sensitivity?

Friday, April 1, 2005

The diaries of Arnon Grunberg (6)

With half an eye Arnon was keeping a close watch on the man who stood in front of the front exit of the subway car. Shortly before 14th Street, the Hispanic man, dressed in black polished shoes with wide noses and a black woollen coat that reached down to his knees, moved toward the exit doors. Arnon knew he had to occupy the spot now if he wanted to prevent himself from causing a stir to his own embarrassment in the halfly full train. As soon as the train had halted he moved without delay toward the doors and grapped to the supports on both sides above his head, slightly spreading his legs apart to steady himself.

But as soon as the train started moving again, shaking left and right, Arnon’s stomach turned unstoppable in every direction, causing a strong pulse upward, outward, thumping in his stomach. His head was dizzy and though his eyes and thoughts were clear, his thoughts were absent from registering anything beyond the sickness that controlled his body, and as his sickness grew graver, his thoughts propelled around the abominate anchor that his stomach was.

“Try and hold out until Fulton Street, suck it up, for two more minutes, not even perhaps.”

But halfway Arnon realized that he would not be able to fight the dominance of his physical condition with the theoretical powers of his thoughts. Cold sweat stood thickly on his forehead, he must look pale as the moon, Arnon thought, but people were either simply indifferent or ignoring his suffering owing to their rudimentary unfitness. Arnon threw their indifference straight back at them.

“This is a dog eat dog world, even if my stomach can’t chew on it today.”

The silverly aluminum with the fluorescent light flikkering, swang to the left and right, the iron parts grinded along the tracks closer to Fulton Street but still too far. Arnon turned slowly around, sensing with the absolute conviction of a seer the sure prediction of his intestines. It was as it was written and his actions were merely reading outloud his predestined fate.

Slowly he opened the car doors, bend his upper body forward, grasping the right outersupport with his right hand, then slowly the left handle, and not even two seconds afterward a powerful beam of yellow brownish fluid gulped out. The noise of the wheels squeezing forcefully over the tracks, pushing forward hundreds of people tens of meters below surface, past trash, rats and darkness, overwhelmed all other perception.

Arnon hang crucified between the two outerdoor handles between the seventh and eight car of the train, the tracks raced rapidly below him passing his eyes barely. Again a new pulse of vomit freed itself and splashed out over the pitch black darkness below.

Finally, it stopped, the train slowed down and Arnon wiped his mouth with a paper handkerchief. As the train came to a stop, he slowly turned around, in control of himself, returning absently the woken stares of compassion that were unable to break through their unfit masks. As he rushed through the opened doors, he felt his cold head turn colder as a fit of sweat burst out on his stirn. He reached for the wooden bench, sat down and bend forward, breathing slowly, recapturing his consciousness.

Sunday, January 2, 2005

The diaries of Arnon Grunberg (5)

Watching the New Year’s fireworks, the star spangled skies over the tip of Manhattan, the red colored nightly heavens, from the Brooklyn boulevard, I see the times turn and shift along a primeval consciousness in which people share their pathetic survival, their clinging on to life. Life mysteriously calculated according to an old pattern of astronomical formulas based upon the constant denominator 12 and 60, Roman and Babylonical, squirmed into a Christian Gregorian pattern. So out of date, so obviously out of sync with reality that constant adjustments are necessary to keep track and not fall behind. Yet, our perception loaded with reverence refuses to take on a solar calendar, and thus we celebrate this random day in our wacky calendar. Giving up the Gregorian calendar would be an intolerable admission of the fall of western domination, the control of time, the last symbol in history to let slip out of one’s hands.

It was not time that prescribed us the peaks of the year’s calendar, but it was the calendar that dictated time. The heightpoints in our lives are dated, outdated by western standards. Arnon lived in a time that did not fit his comprehension. In an anonymous place like New York City this was in itself not a problem, but it bothered Arnon unmistakenly, although nobody cared. At New Year’s eve, this became only the more apparent as Arnon did not become aware any sense of importance, and the moment that the fireworks hit off, lightening for a series of seconds the dark night that loomed over the geometrical puzzle of lights of down town Manhattan, was lost on him. Much went lost on Arnon for the very same reason.

Lost was such a loose concept, which itself could not be placed, and this was perhaps the only handhold that existed in life. The world blasted apart, explosions lit up the skies, but Arnon was not effected by it, did he therefore not exist? No he did exist precisely because he escaped the events planned by calendar or coincidence. He was because he was despite everything else, nothing mattered except his escape, his absence. This consciousness gave great direction in Arnon’s life. “Just imagine,” he would think sometimes, “that you are tied to the center of the great events of our time, subjugated to the conditions that defined history, without escape, but so engaged that the whole world turned around you, or rather held you in the eye of the storm, like the gravity of a black hole. Could one exist if there is no escape?

His absence was Arnon’s great proof of being, not his involvement, not his negation, his absence from both, life as the great nothing, the core of the universal space that was filled with absence.
“Clang! Cling!”
Glasses were lifted into the air and friends standing in a circle around each other toasted. “Happy New Year.” The turning of time, the turning of a single page. Plastic cups filled with apple cider distorted the light of a nearby lantern, deforming the bright light into a blurry presence, a weak flame glowing in the center.