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Monday, October 1, 2007
Scott Rahin told me, “the other day I was watching this video and I just started crying.”
“What was it?” I asked.
“Sigur Rós,” he said. “And before you humiliate me—”
“Was it the one where the kids fly?”
“That's the Sophie's Choice of music videos. What you're seeing in that video is your grandparents going to heaven when they're kids. They escape all of the shit you heard about, like being beaten by the nuns or not being able to afford college, or having to tow a Dodge out of the mud with a mule. There was never that moment when you got the call, when you had to get someone to cover your college radio show, and you end up at some hospice where they leave you in the room alone with him, or her, for a few minutes and you have no idea what to say. Except you see that morphine drip and hear the gurgle in their throat and realize that pain is more complicated than carrying a black leather journal and a variety of colored pens. Twelve years later you're following links and there's some video from Iceland with elves singing and bells and children with perfect skin wearing the latest fashions of 1918, and your dead grandparents start running up that hill together. No polio or cardiac arrest and no car crashes or racism or halitosis. No wonder you're crying.”
“That is more or less what happened, but I don't really need to cry,” said Scott. “Weeping is like a five-dollar chocolate bar. Someone else could enjoy it but I feel guilty opening the wrapper. I have a girlfriend and Halo.”
“I used to have this deep well,” I said, “of manufactured pain. I counted on it. It was a reason to write. Moving in with Mo pretty much shot that out the door. Now if I see myself reflected among a similarly tinted throng of strangers in the skirt glass of a skyscraper, I no longer shield my eyes from the reflection, nor do I expect to be crushed midstride by a large falling object like a frozen turkey or bond trader. I fully expect to live all the way to the end of the block. I guess I feel like you do about crying. Except if you flip that over I have no outlet for radiant joy. I dwell in a valley of irony and second-guessing and I am suspicious of feelings. Every now and then I want to say who cares about the heat death of the universe? Truth and beauty! Truth and beauty!, except there isn't a national fuck-yeah feeling.”
“You have your bike. It has a bell.”
“True. There's nothing ironic about traffic. Do you remember that movie American Beauty?”
“Rose petals,” said Scott.
“And so at the end dead Kevin Spacey starts talking about how every moment ever is pure rapture. And how we all couldn't understand how great it is. You could hear screenwriters masturbating. Now every time I see a plastic bag on the street I think, is that the most beautiful thing in the world? And it is not. No plastic bag has ever been the most beautiful thing in the world. Do you know how much of an asshole you'd need to be to even think that in the first place?”
“So what is? Most beautiful?”
“I've been told repeatedly,” I said, “that it's a distended vagina with a bloody baby head emerging. I have my doubts.”
“I always think of this little brass gorilla statue that was behind the bar at the place I worked in Utica. Its arms were up like this, garaaaaaaa! Rarh! It was just a piece of bar crap, but something about it made me feel okay. I went up to look at it and it was really detailed. Eyelids.”
“It reminded you of some cool gorilla you knew.”
“Maybe I had some book. Or maybe my grandfather and I watched some National Geographic special at his house and they were going on about gorilla families, so after he died and I got that job, and God knows, that was a shitful time in my life, but I see that little gorilla and what the hell, here I am, at least there's a gorilla.”
“I think the gorilla for you, it's like the Virgin Mary is for people. Someone is looking at that and they get a comforting feeling.”
“Give me a brass gorilla and I feel all right.”
“A gorilla and a shitload of fireworks,” I said. “That's a good night.”
“Oh, I have fireworks,” said Scott.
“How many?” I asked.
“It's a funny story,” he said. An hour later we had stopped by his house and even though I had websites to build I'm standing near the Gowanus Canal. After a moment of fumbling in the quiet there's the shink of the lighter flint dialed by Scott's thumb, and a few seconds later a rocket leaves his hand—a wobbly line of chemical light, a brief whistling sentence with a bang at the end, straight up much higher than the tall trees, had there been any. He's got two dozen more in his bag.
We stand for a moment. He says, “maybe we stop there,” and I say, “yes, you're right.” We walk away from the canal. Normally I'd bum a cigarette but both of us quit, and the urge to say something stupid or fucked rises up like habit, but I fight it. I'm hungry for one genuine moment without insult, wit, or smoke. I say, “I got married here two weeks ago” and he says, “I was there.” We start walking back towards my place.
He asks me, “Who was that for? The bottle rocket.”
“It could be for our grandfathers,” I say.
“No,” he says. “Then we'd have had to light them all.”
“There's a statue of the goddess Minerva in Green-Wood cemetery,” I say. “It's about a century old. It's at the highest point in Brooklyn. Upon her helmet sits the sphinx; in her right hand is a laurel, which she is about to rest upon a stone altar. The altar is trebly dedicated, via inscription, to the memory of the Battle of Long Island, to America, and to the spirit of that wisest of all statements, the Declaration of Independence—a document that, according to the inscription, in its Minervan wisdom equates liberty with equality.”
“I know her,” says Scott.
“She probably saw that bottle rocket.”
“She's sitting there,” he says, “alone in the dark with dew on her bronze. She's in despair surveying the blue flickering lights of millions of windows. Brooklyn has squandered the treasures she brought with her when she burst out of her father's brain. She's thinking, they took the fire from Prometheus and made 'smores. And then—just a flicker out of the Gowanus and two man-shapes behind it. Something bright. A flash of cheer. Not that we know anything special.”
“We don't, no.”
“We're just saying hello,” he said. “Sometimes that's all you need to have your faith renewed, just someone nice noticing that you bothered to get dressed.”
“Can you send a signal like that retroactively?” I ask.
“To a statue?” says Scott. “Yes, you can.”
“So that's our five-dollar chocolate bar,” I said. “I wonder who else in the city is thinking of her right now? Someone must think of her every day. People have been recollecting the statue of Minerva every day since she was erected. There's this continuous stream of recollectors that we just jumped into. What do you think after that? You think that she knows our names?”
“We sent her a bottle rocket,” said Scott. “So hells yes. She knows our names.”