Spend a day in New York City walking, eating, buying coffee, anything, so long as the primary activities are outdoors, and then go home and wash your face with a white washcloth. Or better yet, use one of the various towelette-cleansers or astringent and a cotton ball. Then look at the result on the used-to-be-white cloth: black and gray…something that was smeared on your face and hands. What the hell is it and how did it get there? Ever see them powerwashing the buildings at night, spraying them down with high-pressure hoses? The same thing on building faces gets your human face and mine: city grime.
Tiny flecks of the skin of millions of people, bits of concrete and dog shit, lighter than air, floating around town waiting for something to turn its kinetic energy into potential. A few molecules worth of urine from some long-dead bum mixed with chemical by-products and a dash of soot, baked in the heat energy of the city that never sleeps. Etc. It's very poetic. Etc.
It's the et cetera that bothers me. When I think of dying, I have this idea that I'll be taking in my last breath, waiting for full-system shutdown and then suddenly realize that I missed about ninety-nine percent of the beauty in the world because I was too busy utilizing quick and easy quantifying words and phrases, categorizing everything into their neat little cubbyholes and then brushing my hands together with satisfaction. I. Am. Done. Completely. That? Oh, I understand that, it's just the same as those other things. I imagine that I might go off then and grab a half-caf double-wide extra-foamy cappuccino and never, ever, ever again look up at another skyscraper with anything resembling awe. I don’t want to do that. I don't want to live out my last days trying to recapture something that I am very well equipped to experience now.
Ya want stars? We got stars. You just have to be willing to look down to see them. Or across the Hudson River at midnight, over to New Jersey, where some nights it looks like all the stars have come down from the sky to sleep there. Oh yuck, New Jersey, sure, close your eyes, put your hands in your pockets and walk on. Just be sure you get there as fast as possible.
When I'm head down eyes to the floor, on the days where everything seems like dying and there are buzzing hornets in the fire in my head, and I would gladly pave over the stars on the ground and in the sky, I go to Grand Central Station. I went today, because sometimes there is just nothing rational left to do when you're feeding your breakfast money into a payphone just so you’ll have someone to cry to and even then you can’t think of any good reasons to stop. I stood in the rain for a long time, a pinball in a sea of bumpers until finally taking the initiative and giving someone a good hard shove to let the world know that the business suit was only a costume. It gave me a good feeling: mean and superior, but you drop a hot potato before it burns you and so likewise, I brought myself to Grand Central for some quick healing.
We got stars. In the main concourse we have a backwards winter sky with two thousand five hundred stars. Under those stars, surrounded by people, I walk around thinking of only the most unimportant things – Step. Turn left. Breathe in. Breathe out. Anything to keep me from concentrating on the scary things, even if it means matching every action with a sing-song command more suited to a mental patient or a baby. Oh well. Left foot, right foot, spin. Spin? Yes, pretend that you know how to waltz. I knew I wanted to and so I did, executing a few clumsy circles while men in fatigues stood by scanning the crowd.
You want diversity? We got that, too. Fat. Black. Thin. Old. Disabled. White. Blonder than the autumn sun. Handsome dark man. Teeny little raver girl. I do not count myself as part the diversity, however, with my pink skin in my black pants, black socks, black shoes, black jacket and (YOW!) green shirt, which I think is called 'personal expression' in the corporate world. I look at the other people making their way to the timetables and from my vantage point, they seem happy, or at least unconcerned. They are not on the verge of sobbing out some tearful, clichéd apology to the world. "I’m sorry I suck. I’m sorry I’m wrong and everything I do is pointless." They are not ready to throw their bags to the floor and run to the woods to disappear forever.
I wander the station, thinking these thoughts until something - a woman trying to give out flyers to people who casually push her out of the way – reminds me that it’s not quite time to throw in the towel and use my last five dollars at Starbucks. Wrong again, for which I feel momentarily like a real asshole. I buy a copy of some magazine benefiting homeless people that's published by a shelter, sold by the homeless and written by freelancers. It’s quality stuff, heavy weight paper and ink that doesn’t get on your fingers, eighty cents on the dollar for the seller.
Don’t get me wrong. These were not divinely inspired events dripping with profound meaning. A lot of people are more worse off than I am. What the fuck, there are also a lot of people who are doing much better than I am and I’m not about to prop up my happiness on the thought that some people don’t have the nice things I do. But then I think of all of the upper-upper middle-class folks in their nice houses and their established careers. I picture them sitting with their heads in their hands, crying their eyes out, hurting and then thinking of me, and feeling instantly better. And that's funny enough to elicit a chortle from me as I head down to the dining concourse to spend my last couple of dollars, leaving the stars behind me.
As I sat on my green and mauve plastic chair, watching people read schedules again and again, waiting to go or waiting for someone to come, I noticed the dirt under my fingernails. A lot of dirt, surprising, as I had done nothing that day except for walk around and let another employment agency crap on my self-esteem. City grime. Little bits of all the people living and dead and the by-products of their existence. It made me want to get up and say "See you there!" to everyone walking past, all colors and types and ages, because eventually them and me and Grand Central Station and every damn latte was just going to turn into more of the stuff underneath my fingernails.
We got stars. There are people under my nails, and life on my face, and stars across the river – to borrow a concept from Robert Fulghum, we are the stuff of stars, and so then is the black gunk all over and under me. That’s not grime, it's star dust, and if that isn’t beautiful, I don't know what is.