Sunday, January 27, 2008

En Wye See

Inside for two days. Rattling around hotel elevator, conference room, conference room, hotel room, conference room. PowerPoint slides and airconditioning that turns my fingernails blue. Up too late at night, unadjusted to East Coast time, getting up far too early, co-workers reflecting back bleary and hungover, some not appearing until afternoon.

Moving through the grand lobby, I spy daylight out there, but then it's back to another conference room for lunch and more sessions.

A couple of hours before the flight home, two precious hours, and I'm outside, stumbling onto the sidewalk blinking like a matinee moviegoer, surprisingly mild air - it's January! - my eyes wide, drinking in all the images I can't record in the camera I forgot to bring. Overtired, the whole thing happening a few paces removed from me, my head still rolling around an empty conference room, seeing New York City projected in a PowerPoint slide on the wall.

I trail behind co-workers up a broad set of stairs, library lions on either side. The doorman nods and a security guard peers into our purses, and deep into the library we go, ceilings high and stacks of books, but they would only tease - I'm too far from home with too little time to check out even one - instead we move in to the temporary display.

Running up the center of the room is a long glass case, a single yellow page running end to end, Kerouac's On The Road, all on one long page, so he wouldn't have to check the flow long enough to change out a page.

I don't usually dig stuff like this. Biographical stuff. Artistic process shit. I'm always comparing, thinking, if he didn't wash his socks until a manuscript was finished, maybe I shouldn't either. And the life isn't the art, anyway, the art is. This is why I don't read writer biographies. I'd rather just read what they wrote.

But it gets me. I'm crooking my neck to read - security guard scolding us about leaning on the glass - and I can see his cross-outs (not many), his dead-ends and wrong turns. I can see it was good right from the start, and he knew it.

And it doesn't make me feel small. I'm reading it and I'm waking up. It's okay, I think, it's an okay world where something like this is written, and remembered. Where a glass case is constructed so people can crook their necks and see, for a second, into somebody else's head.

It's time to head back to the hotel for my bags before being churned through the intestines of JFK and hurled home in the belly of a plane.

I nod at the security guard at the door, and breathe in some outside air on the front steps. Beside one of the lions is a delicate-boned young woman with a cane, black hair hanging to her hips. She turns to show a porcelain doll face, maybe Eurasian. I fall in love with her right there on the steps, watching her move fluidly, cane and all, and I'm glad. The girl with the cane, the guard at the door, the man eating his lunch on the library steps, the tourists. I'm in New York City, and it's alive and a hundred people jostle by, leaving little bits of themselves inside me.


anne said...

You were here!
Funny how On the Road elicits all those different feelings - some people worship, some people hate. Never read it, should i?

Chemical Billy said...

Hmmm. It's worth reading, I think. I am not the Ultimate Judge of Literature, and I don't know if it's Great, but I do know it's good, and it was surprising and new in its time, and there are moments of pure awe.

Next time I'm there, Anne, I'll have to look you up!