I didn’t want to walk down the old streets yesterday. I had what I thought was a meeting, which turned out to be a “social lunch,” and I was freaking out the whole time because talking without an agenda with a stranger is so precarious; who knows what kind of fucked up shit I'm going to say? I was conscious that I was smiling and enthusing a lot – “Ah, water, wonderful. Fabulous. Wonderful, a cheese grater. Great.” – and by the time I left I was cursing myself for grinning and babbling like an idiot. I’d been nervous on my way down, thinking about Joan Didion as I passed my old place on Fourth Avenue, which reminds me of my dead cats, Fang and Petunia, and how many things I screwed up while I lived there, the payphone downstairs where I'd go when I couldn't sleep and make distant phones ring.
These days I’m trying to shun the landmarks, stop mistaking them for mine, but every block has its history. I’ve been here so long.
The lunch was on Eldridge Street. I deliberately took Forsythe, because it’s not as bad. I don’t want it, I don’t want the old associations. I’m done with being that person, and if I can’t do anything to help her, I want her to stop chasing me down, in her dirty white shirt and ripped tights, indignant about something. I just want to go somewhere today, me, Janice Erlbaum, 41 years old, credible adult, happily partnered, published author, teacher – nay, ed-u-ca-tor – noted philanthropist (as in “a lover of mankind,” HAH) – just, like, deal with today, just deal with feeling nervous and not good enough in advance of the lunch; deal with trying to walk down the street where the construction site has red mud pouring into the gutters like the Danube; singing Mary J. Blige to myself; occasionally apologizing out loud or muttering the words, “I’m okay, I’m okay, I’m a good person,” which I try to pass off as lyrics.
And I’m thinking, “If I just stay in the moment, I’m okay.” I take some deep breaths and try to be all Gurdjieff and The Fourth Way about it, try to notice everything inside and around me with complete attention: the warehouse with the front gate open, everything on the metal shelves, the man sitting on a bucket and shelling peas in front, the ambulance across the street, every sound and every sensation, which lasted under five seconds, and then I was thinking ahead to class on Sunday and how I was going to tell everybody to be in the moment, and what great advice this was going to be.
And then I hit Stanton, and I was hit by the past. It just came around the corner, the way it did sometimes back in the 80s, just ran up on you and fucked your shit up out of nowhere for no reason (see: Jerry Dean in the park, the skinheads at Westbeth, the night outside Sophie’s on 5th Street when those guys jumped our guys and I stood there yelling, “Stop it! That’s not okay!” until someone lunged at me and I ran down to Avenue A yelling for someone to call the cops. See also: getting mugged at gunpoint with Dan on Park Place in Brooklyn at ten o’clock on Oscars Night 1989, huddling on the sidewalk in the plane crash position listening to them hit him with a pistol, indignant that this was how it was going to go down, so stupid and infuriating, that I wasn’t going to get to live the rest of my life).
Jesus Christ. I use that epithet a lot, especially for a Jew by birth. But I mean it in the Jewish way, in that I’m appealing to a Messiah that has not yet appeared, the divine intelligence who’s supposed to get us all to work together and not be shitheads and advance humanity and all universal life into something everlastingly vast and beautiful. The god I wish existed. That guy.