In my words, October 28 – November 3

I can only say this in the present: the past is everywhere you look and obviously the older you get, the more of it there is. As I was waiting for the L train yesterday reading some graffiti on a movie poster that had been written most likely by a teenager going home from Peter Stuyvesant High a block away, I thought of the past and myself at that age. Here’s what the teenager wrote:

Wow! let TV buy my
mind and create my personality
in corporate boardrooms where shallow
is God and money is his Bitch. If it’s
possible for you, you loser plebian, try and
think for yourself for ONE SECOND and
learn to create your own identity, one
that is free of a bourgeoisie reflection.

—Thomas Jefferson

Like the young man (I’m assuming it was a young man), I might have used the word bourgeoisie, I thought to myself amused at the intransigence of youth. Bourgeoisie is the noun, a French grammarian would note, and bourgeios the adjective. If the teenager had been up on his French, he’d have written “bourgeios reflections,” but in the context of English, that will use a noun or a verb as happily as it will use an adjective for an adjective, it’s no big deal. The French language like youth itself is intransigent too; French words are given their sexes and their places and from there you rarely see them move (unless Rimbaud is writing a poem). In English I can say the young man or the preacher man or the working man. English could care less if the adjective is actually an adjective or a noun or a verb as long as it makes sense, and English adjectives don’t become plural when the nouns they’re modifying do, nor become masculine or feminine unless they have French roots: the blond boy and the blonde girl.

Although bourgeoisie and bourgeois are in an English dictionary, I don’t think they are easy for the English speaker to spell; well, the first syllable “bour” is easy enough because it sounds like “tour” but the second syllable “geois” almost a two syllable sound in itself, is alien to the English ear. We want to write a z somewhere, or an a, or a w. I was impressed the kid spelled it correctly although in this day and age he could have spell-checked.

As a teenager, the first authors I read who didn’t write in English were French. In high school I was taking German (which I’ve forgotten) and Latin (which I’ve retained). In translation I read some Sartre, Camus, Cocteau, Genet, de Sade, Apollinaire, and André Gide whom I continued to read into my early twenties, his Journals, The Counterfeiters (a couple of times), and Lafcadio’s Adventures. I wonder what I’d think of Gide today? As a young man, I ate him up. As a teenager I was reading everything. What didn’t I read? (Some of my high school teachers might reply, “Don, you didn’t read your math books.”)

I got out my iPhone and took some pictures of the graffiti saying to the young man standing, watching nearby, “I never knew Thomas Jefferson wrote that, did you?” The young man didn’t smile or respond to my question. Maybe he had never heard of Thomas Jefferson or maybe he didn’t speak English and had no idea what I was saying or maybe he thought that I was trying to pick him up which I was not. Suddenly I was alone again with my own memories remembering being a teenager, my parents paying the bills and me doing what I really wanted to do, write (I was working on a novel at the time). The years from fifteen to eighteen were among the happiest in my life although outside the Vietnam War raged and a battle for civil rights. I knew that I wanted to write, lucky in the knowledge of my path although it would never be an easy one to follow.

The train had been coming for awhile; its distant rumbling getting closer, louder as I said to myself, “And the people bowed and prayed to the neon god they made,” looking from the movie poster to the L, approaching finally there at last in a roar of rushing lights; it stopped, opened its doors, and I got on looking for a place to sit, but there wasn’t, so I began to look for a place to stand back in the survival present.

I have an African stool I like a lot. It’s been fading, its wood drying out. I wanted something I could put, rub, or polish that would revitalize but not compromise it. I have butcher’s wax but put off using it. My lovely wooden stool; perhaps anything that is a noun gets old. Someone might argue that eternity doesn’t get old, but it might once you’re in it. Perhaps concrete nouns get old, but not abstract ones like love. If only there were some sort of butcher’s wax that I could apply to this old noun I call myself.

Some friends suggest I refinish it, but I won’t do that. Others suggest tung oil, or shea butter, or vinegar and then olive oil. They all sound good, but the one I like the best is beeswax and mineral oil. My friend Mary says: “Melt the beeswax and stir in the mineral oil. Pour the liquid on and rub with your hand or a soft cloth. I use this on my butcher block counter tops to keep them from drying out and for a lovely finish.” A project for the future, but it will happen. Notice that affirmative will.

I took a walk through Central Park with my friend Tom who had recently had some surgery on his knee. We walked slowly stopping to take some breaks along the way starting at 96th Street and walking through the park heading east past the ponds, the stream and the falls veering toward the Conservancy Garden at 105th. Although the day was overcast it was good to see Tom and walk. Every day has its own beauty.

Sonnet 6

The flies and itching heat are gone at last.
Lovely autumn, just a walk from my door
golden and energetic, I adore
you here with me steadfast as the promise
of middle age. Birds rustle in the leaves.
Or are they footsteps coming from behind?
No, it’s only a squirrel I turn to find
close to the bench as unafraid of me
by the East River in East River Park
which was built from the rubble of London
bombed, brought back, ballast in the emptied hulls
of battleships returning to New York
in World War II. Who really knows what was?
Brown and yellow, red they fall, spring’s green buds.

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