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Wednesday, March 10, 1999
By Paul Ford
Around now in the project I was grasping for ideas. It was a painful process. I was not just out of ideas; I was out of life
Tonight I met a friend at a Chelsea photo studio, white screens and big electric boxes. She was coordinating a photo shoot.
My friend and I took a cab, subway, and regional train to Montclair, NJ. The conversation began about work, like all my conversations.
Talking about work is less complex than simply living, considering your breath and breathing. To do well in New York is to strive diligently, make a great deal of money, and hire a maid to clean your apartment, hire a nanny to raise your child, hire cabs to move you around, hire restaurants to feed you, and enjoy an expensive funeral that everyone meant to attend. When we switched trains, my friend interrupted to asked about my life, my friends, my relationships.
Things aren't good, so I talked about that.
Things weren't good for her, either. She lives in Montclair, among low buildings and shrubs, where houses don't touch, on streets with alliterative names. We met my friend's husband by the train, and drove to a Thai restaurant with a laminated menu, far enough outside New York that the waiters spoke clear English.
After green dumplings, we walked in the rain to the Page One Coffeeshop. There, Karen Novy, my friend's friend, played a Yamaha Clavinova and sang 8 or 9 songs. I bought a hot chocolate, $1.25, and Karen's CD, $10.
Exposed brick, books on the wall, billboards with postings. "The Socratics meet every Wednesday evening to dicuss philosophy."
Looking at the red bricks, sitting on a high stool, writing Ftrain in my head, I considered: there is more room to spread out here in Montclair. You could raise a child, or cook, own a tamed animal. The constant pressure to move upward would spread out horizontally. Life would be less squeezed.
But that's fantasy. Everyone wants to be a rock star, and people are kind or bitchy whether they live in an apartment or farmhouse. From a tall hill in Montclair you can still see the World Trade Center, 2 swollen gray bricks 14 miles away.
On the bulletin board, a typed index card read:
A name and phone number were added in lowercase.
After the coffeeshop there was some complicated business with following a car, then dropping another car off for inspection. The things you do when people own cars, houses, dogs, big closets, furniture. I was to be deposited in Hoboken--no need to drive me to all the way to Brooklyn, but thanks.
On the way, I talked too much about Ftrain, and work. "I could live here, couldn't I? I could move to Montclair, go freelance, make $500 a month." Could I write a better story here in Jersey, closer to the ground? I could own a dog, and scratch its ears until it whined with sensual delight. I could have a garden for puttering, a workshop for tinkering, an old Honda for schlepping.
But then, no Ftrain. No monster rattle, no shreiking brakes, racing below the East River. At Second Avenue on the 12:30am Ftrain, coming back, a man came on with a baby, pushing the stroller and carrying a pink bag printed with teddy bears. The baby shifted, wiggling her tiny fingers, and her father carefully pulled a blanket up to her neck, then adjusted her tiny socks, and stroked her head. He tucked the blanket tight, tilting the stroller, and finally, after peering around, he kissed her smooth brown forehead, softly, murmuring. In my apartment in Montclair, fielding phone calls, answering emails, I would have been able to avoid him. By 12:30, I would have been asleep in bed, probably in a bedroom separate from the rest of my apartment. Some days that seems a good trade, and one day it will seem not like a trade but like a necessity, but tonight it felt good to get back to 9th St and type all of this in.
(Written in blue ink to pass the time, on the Hoboken PATH station, on the Brooklyn-bound Ftrain, and at home on 9th St.)