Thu 6 Apr 2006
I’m standing on the fire escape on the second (and highest) floor of Roosevelt Hall, because it’s the best place I know on campus to go and think and feel clearheaded. It’s just a small metal platform halfway hidden in the leaves of a wild, skinny tree at the top of a steep metal staircase. At the bottom of the staircase is a landscaped alleyway between Roosevelt, one of the whitewashed older buildings on campus, and the cramped, single-story film school which which had previously served as a cafeteria. At the top is a door that leads back into a cozy carpeted hallway leading to classrooms and offices.
I feel like I’ve written about it before. I used to come up here often as a student to write, or just watch. It’s amazing what you can see if you stay still, particuarly if you are outside and high up, where there is a lot to see. It would seem that the longer you sit with a vista the more familiar it becomes, but this is not the case. The longer you are there, the more there is to see. In this way, I suspect that good views are like good people. I suspect that some of the deepest, most revealing discussions happen on airplanes, in coach class, because there is the opportunity to sit with a person for a long time with no simple way to escape, except using the bathroom or hiding antisocially behind a crossword puzzle.
But I digress. I’m avoiding trying to tell you about the view from the fire escape because I know that I will fall short. There’s simply too much there, and it’s not like I can just reduce it to words or symbols. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, though.
Here are my observations, as I recall them:
An old, bald professor and a boy pass through the alley, walking together. Are they family? The professor is pointing the boy somewhere. “Open your eyes!” he yells. I’m sure the boy had his eyes open. The professor is very bald. From this angle, he looks to me like little more than a smooth shiny island of hairlessness. He looks like a target — and I confess I think about spitting on him, not because I don’t like him, but just because it would be fun. But I don’t.
I thought the tree that’s grown up by the fire escape was blossoming, but it turns out that someone has put tried flowers in the branches for some reason. I pick one up. It smells like pouporri.
There are neat, blue lines painted on the alley. About six of them. I want to take a picture.
Not far away is a bike rack, where a girl’s bike sits, pink handle bar ribbons waving, drifting in the wind. I watch this for a long time.
A scruffy young man in a beret who looks like Aaron Choate rides up on and locks his bike up at the bike rack. I think for a moment that it must be Aaron Choate, but it turns out it isn’t. He’s the only person to look up at me.
Far away, at the Kennedy Law School, American flags are billowing in the wind. I guess it’s also a good picture.
The sun is starting to sink lower, and light fills the air.
A crow suddenly hops from something into the air and flies right past my head, inches from me. I’m so enthralled in it that I don’t feel the thrilling sensation of nearly being knocked off the fire escape until the bird has disapeared.
Then a small white bird weaves across the sky, skimming treetops.
This is why I struggle with filmmaking. Nothing can capture all of this life. I want to share these moments, but no canvas is wide enough, no focus is deep enough. The only way to share life is to LIVE, even when that means being still.
But I have a hard time not believing that being still in front of a screen, even a screen showing Citizen Cane, is somehow vastly inferior to being still in front of God, in front of the world, in front of yourself.
shhhhh . ..
And as for myself, I am wearing a suit and tie. When I look down and see this outfit I feel like it is a costume, or that I am in a dream. Because it does not feel like a part of me, not nearly as much as that bird or that bike or those blue lines on the pavement.
This suit is the mask I look out of.
This dream is the waking world.
When can I break free into life?
And I am up here because I need time to feel flowing again. I’ve come from my office suit job, where I write and report. But I am not a real writer there. And I am not a real reporter, either. I am a public relations writer.
I get excited at my job when I get can help make people aware of what’s going on. It sounds silly, but I love that, actually. Why else would I describe this view from the fire escape?
But my job, my primary job, isn’t making people informed or aware — it’s simply keeping them happy.
And I can think of nothing more futile
Happiness needs to be refreshed, in the same way I keep refreshing my inbox in my web browser, trying to remind myself that there’s life outside of this job, outside of this office and outside of this suit.
But it doesn’t hold back the inevitable — the wide, rushing revelations . . .
somewhere someone is dying of hunger. somewhere LOTS of people are dying of hunger. and somewhere two people are sitting in the same row in coach, sharing their souls, and somewhere a guy who looks like Aaron Choate but is not Aaron Choate is getting off of his bike, and I am the only one to see him. and somewhere there are cancer cells spreading quickly through a liver, and somewhere someone is sobbing, realizing that she way always forgiven, and somewhere . . .
you want me to keep you happy?
oh mercy. in that case, you can take this job and –
well, I still need the money.