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Tuesday, June 14, 2005
By Paul Ford
Another stroll down Smith St.
I got off at Bergen and there was a bear on Smith St. Big and brown, in the middle of the street. Someone said, “is that a bear?” I said, “yes, that's a bear.” She said, “what's it doing here?” I said, “I guess they have bears here now,” and went into Tabac to have dinner with a friend. However ten minutes passed, then thirty, and my friend didn't show up. My allergies puffed my eyes. I asked the waitress, a solicitous, tall, slender woman who had a bat-like heiroglyph emblazoned into the skin of her lower back, for the time and she told me it was almost eight, then looked into my puffy eyes with sympathy. I tried to see myself as she might: a sad lump of a man in a blue shirt, his face puffy and eyes brimming. Perhaps I'd been stood up by a Nerve date? Perhaps I was trying to get back together with a girlfriend who had just dumped me and now not come to meet me for dinner?
After a while I ordered soup and a soda. Someone at work had given me a copy of a book by Gertrude Stein, advising me that it represented a truly unique voice and was worth study; I read that as I ate, but the lack of punctuation made it difficult to pay attention. There was a woman next to me reading the New Yorker, also alone, and I wanted to speak with her to pass the time, because she was my age and looked like she had something to say, but unless I have a lot of coffee in me I can't initiate a conversation that is worth a damn. I finished my soup and asked for a check, tipped about the cost of the food, and walked home down Smith St.
Men with little beards abounded, as did women in sleeveless blouses. A woman sat on a stoop sobbing, and a man comforted her. I stopped at a drugstore, where a man held a large dog in his arms and cooed to it. “Just a moment, baby,” he said. “We're almost there.”
On the rest of the way home I tried to think of things that I had not already thought of seven million times. There used to be a number of people that I was worried about running up against in this neighborhood, dates gone wrong, braggart men, and bloggers, but none were in sight. The only idea I had was: pervasive public access wireless networks represent an extraordinary threat to personal privacy because anyone with a few dollars and some wit can set up a digital camera anywhere there is a network and have it email photographs through the wireless ether. The bathroom at the coffeeshop, for instance, can be monitored by anyone with a PDA and a tiny videocamera. This unsettled me.