is it a sign of the apocalypse that upon walking outside in the moments after midnight, i notice that our neighbor’s brownstone is enveloped by COCKROACHES? a shimmering writhing sea of cockroaches, thousands of them, darting quickly in different directions across the facade of the building.
a fat man with slicked back silver hair sits in his white thunderbird, waiting for cars to park on either side of him, at which point, he leaps out from behind the steering column, flapping his arms in an emphatic appeal for more room.
"you gotta give me some space," he said to me after i parked in front of him and then started to walk away.
his voice was hoarse, like a throat cancer survivor.
"more space, give me more space!"
he wore a white t-shirt and baggy shorts. perhaps they were prison-issue.
"are you serious?" i asked.
there was at least two feet of space between his car and mine.
this is new york.
"what the fuck do you mean, am i serious? yeah, i’m fucking serious."
he then gestured with his arm, as if it was zigzagging the steering wheel.
"i gotta be able to back out… and get out…"
i acquiesced, re-parked, and walked away.
just then, a forerunner pulled in behind him.
out of the corner of my eye, i could see him tapping on the window of the soccer mom behind the wheel.
ah new york city, you slay me.
here’s a re-enactment/remix, with the setting changed and a bit of extra dialogue added:
with neither fanfare nor ceremony, the skies turned to soot and then suddenly opened up, bestowing upon new york an unholy barrage of lightning and vitriol; which new yorkers, in their usual state of complacency and resignation, duly accepted.
some sought cover beneath store awnings while others chose never to leave the office, opting to work late instead of making the mad dash home.
those who found themselves in the no-man’s land on the streets looked towards the heavens, sinking to their knees beneath the weight of the extreme low pressure system and driving rain.
the cruel water. at least the stench of summer may finally be broken.
they are cumulus clouds, bloated and without menace, moving impatiently across the sky, like commuters who won’t stand for being late.
the air is fragrant with primrose, rye grass, beech and birch, and traces of the sea.
a stand of elm trees sways with the wind.
it takes me eighteen hours to reach this place, an escape from the cruel tropical temperatures of the american east coast and their cities, each of them encumbered by the stench of countless garbage cans simmering beneath an unsympathetic sun; the collective aroma of a metropolis that overflows with sweat and toil, yet their riverbeds are dry. soot and dust stream in from the windows, leaving layer upon layer on the sills, the mantelpieces, the doorsteps.
at the instant one steps off of the plane, walking across the tarmac of a tiny military base in the region’s southernmost landing strip, one is greeted by the contrast.
open space. air. breeze. the absence of ambition.
this is sørlandet, norway.
it’s been two years since my last sojourn.
from a grimy street in brooklyn, as yet another ambulance urgently squeezes through strands of traffic, a plane arcs across the sky, leaving all of this behind.
two of our friends have asked me to write them a reference letter, as they are in the final stages of buying an apartment in a co-op. as such, one of the last steps in this process is that they are required to present no less than twelve letters of recommendation to the members of the co-op board. ah, the good life in new york.
i was more than happy to oblige my friends, allowing my zeal for honesty and transparency to lead the way forward.
- - - - - - - - - - - - -
dear members of the board,
i am writing to express my unconditional support for roxanne sampson and gabriel blomqvist regarding their prospective purchase of an apartment in your building.
for three years now, it has been a pleasure to call roxanne and gabriel my dear friends, during which time my wife and i have travelled with them on numerous occasions.
blessed with a remarkable curiosity and creative spirit, i am reminded on an almost daily basis of how lucky i am to have them not only as friends, but also as mentors and role models.
both roxanne and gabriel have impeccable taste, as evidenced by their outstanding collection of found objects that occupy virtually every inch of surface space in their home. no matter which way one looks, there’s always a visual indulgence that’s waiting to be discovered. there’s a stack of match books by the front door that reaches from the floor to the ceiling; while there’s also an immense sculpture made of plastic cafeteria forks. one of the lampshades has been fashioned out of previously-owned cling film food wrap. i love their collection of tall boy beer cans almost as much as i adore their collection of blue new york times newspaper bags.
yet it is gabriel who is truly the more entrepreneurial of the two. never one to turn down an opportunity to revive or repurpose those seemingly hopeless pieces of furniture that gabriel routinely picks up from the streets of the east village, he hauls them into their home, so that they can be lovingly restored. it is true that some of these revived objects are sold, often for a token amount, but gabriel so frequently falls in love with the results of his work that he and roxanne more often elect to keep their restoration projects, adding even more charm and distinction to their already unique home.
one example that springs to mind is the once-tattered couch that was rescued in freemans alley from a pack of stray dogs that were using it as their bed. i don’t know how long that couch was in that dank and forlorn alley, but let’s just say that it harboured a certain musky aroma that is truly difficult to describe, which suggests that the couch had been there for eons. now, months later, it looks almost as good as new, and it hardly ever smells of dog urine.
i should point out that this very couch has become our seat of honor whenever we visit them. we’ve become quite attached to it.
i’ve seen gabriel enthusiastically discover abandoned mattresses, and, bedbugs be damned, i’ve found several occasions to lend him a hand to bring them back to their apartment. at one point, they had so many mattresses in need of their tender loving care that they were compelled to temporarily stack them in the hallway outside their door - but gabriel worked night and day to painstakingly bring them back to life - and some six weeks later, he was finally done. he gave several of the mattresses away to his friends.
while gabriel’s generosity never fails to impress, it is roxanne’s creative spirit that sets her apart.
an avid fan of rhythmic music, we are frequently invited to participate in their elaborately choreographed drum circles that are hosted twice-weekly by roxanne. sometimes, we’ll play until four in the morning! i feel like i learn so much during these drumming sessions, as roxanne encourages all of her friends to really express themselves. sometimes, she leads by example through her use of unconventional objects to strike the drum. i recall an episode where, in a fit of creative genius, she suddenly grabbed the flower vase from the top of the bookshelf and smashed it over the conga, adding quite a yell for extra emphasis. i’ve ever heard such a tremendous sound. it was truly inspiring.
the source of her creativity is a subject that i’ve often speculated over, and i have concluded that it must have something to do with her being québécoise.
her creative energy extends to the kitchen. she really enjoys making home-made kombucha for themselves and all of their house guests, and so, whenever one enters the kitchen, the first thing one takes notice of are all of the oversized vats which contain what looks like liquid compost in various stages of fermentation. the yeasts and assorted bacteria that are cultivated in the vats generate quite a staunch aroma, but it really does add to the experience, and i wouldn’t want it any other way.
since roxanne and gabriel are so fond of collecting things, including friends (some of whom are such frequent guests that they should practically be paying rent, but roxie and gabes would never dream of asking them to do that), it should come as no surprise than they enjoy sharing their home with a wide variety of rescue animals. normally, they prefer to limit their merry coterie of critters to four or five dogs and no more than six or seven cats. they’ve also hosted a raccoon, a semi-paralyzed skunk, and three black squirrels (which gabriel encountered in nearby tompkins square park). as for the cats and dogs, sometimes, there are more, but this has a way of self-correcting as some of the animals simply wander off, never to be seen again. their loss! the animals, i mean, because who would want to leave a home that is so fantastic as theirs?
as there is such an abundance of adorable furry little friends which bring so much joy to their home, it is not unusual for some of them to partake in the drum circle. not only do some of the dogs enjoy a robust wail along with the humans who are doing their own drumming and shouting, but there was once a time when roxanne and gabriel babysat a proboscis monkey who brought the evening session to a stirring climax through his persistent shrieking and plant thrashing. yes, the proboscis monkey grabbed their ficus tree and used it as an improvised drumstick, employing the walls of the apartment as the drum’s surface!! i was amazed that the monkey was given the creative freedom to express himself like that, but that just shows you how remarkable roxanne and gabriel really are.
i can only offer them the very highest recommendation possible, and hope that the members of the co-op board will find them as delightful and resourceful as we do. perhaps you’ll have an opportunity to sample their kombucha. it’s simply delicious!
the day starts with my wife asking me if i succeeded in getting a decent recording of the cicadas. ever since we’ve moved to new york city, she’s become obsessed with them, their persistent singing - a shrill rattle of their timbals located in their abdominal cavity that only increases with a rise in temperature. it’s been very hot of late.
as we walked to the subway station in carroll gardens, we agreed that the task of obtaining a satisfactory recording was to be elevated to a weekend priority.
my wife flies to los angeles tonight, and so, this morning, outside of the station, i kissed her good-bye. we were interrupted by the sudden appearance of a familiar face. we’ve lived in brooklyn long enough now to bump into friends. that’s a milestone. the interruption was fortuitous. the distraction allowed me to surreptitiously slip a note into my wife’s suitcase. she and i used to leave notes with each other all the time, little words of affection and encouragement hidden in a shoulder bag or suitcase pocket. we’ve fallen out of the habit.
like the cicadas, the residents of carroll gardens are an odd and noisy tribe. seasonal too. there are many elderly sicilians who, during the summer hours, sit on the unadorned concrete slabs in front of their brownstones. from behind the iron gates that protect their slabs, they survey the comings and goings of the neighborhood. they are friendly but they confound me with odd expressions.
this morning, my sicilian neighbor greets me at the bottom of the stoop with this one: “he who walks with the limper learns to limp.”
"what do you mean?"
"i see that you are not walking right."
"that’s not true. i’m just a bit sore. i played soccer yesterday."
"i gotta stay away from you."
it reminds me of a how a museum curator, who lives in new york but is originally from naples, italy, recently described one of my short films by using an expression of a similar spirit. “every cockroach is a butterfly in it’s mother’s eyes,” she said. i was horrified, then baffled. i eventually got over it.
perhaps it helped that the cicadas are connected to the film. i remembered that the exoskeleton of a cicada appeared in my film. maybe that inspired her.