Big Boy Now

The wooden sheep is a red herring.

On Saturday, August 11, 2001, I have decided to turn 27 years old. I'll explain for those who are not human. Human cultures have divided the linear progress of time into arbitrary dividers referring to solar and planetary events; a certain amount of identifiable recurrence gives structure to this otherwise unmanageable dimension, and is necessary for planning agriculture, holidays, and nights out. With regards to the birthday, most humans subjugate themselves to this cultural construct by identifying the “day” on and “year” which they were born, and by subtracting the current “year” from the birth “year”, they arrive at a number, meaningless in itself. This identifier allows them and others to predict and analyze their status as intellectual, emotional, sexual, and economic beings, as well as their closeness to death, when death is represented as a statistical average of years, a predicted totality.

Thus, in common discussion, the 50 year old male is expected to be wiser, more mature, less horny, and wealthier than he was at 27; if he's a white male in a developed country, he is about 25-30 years away from death, working at some career, and slightly concerned for his own mortality, but otherwise settled. The 27-year-old may be married, settled, building a career, but is as likely to be wandering the world, putting together a career or confused as to his future. This is complete bullshit - no one fits in these boxes, and the wise seem to ignore them categorically - but still, the boundaries are accepted; there is typical 27-year-old, typical 12-year-old, typical 18-month-old, and typical 80-year-old behavior.

Because this system of ages and numbers has no logical consistency, but is culturally defined, if I am to avoid being bored, I must avoid being 27 categorically, ignore the boundary set up by August 11 this year and keep my eyes on discrete goals, regardless of age. So let's try that. I'll take a look at where I am. I am in the mansion in Israel, working for Ai; it is the Israeli weekend, which begins on Friday, and I'm working scripting chatbots. Everyone in my team is good-looking and slender.

A suicide bombing yesterday in Yerushalayim - 15 Israelis, and some French, dead, at a Sbarro pizza shop. Sbarro. This morning, Israelis sent F-16 fighter jets to blow up a PA police station in Ramallah, and sent a security force to take control of Orient House, in East Jerusalem, where the Palestinian Authority has (had) its offices. Orient House was the base of operations for Faisal Husseini, a Palestinian activist who died in May. The Israeli flag now flies over Orient House, the sort of big symbolic "fuck you, and Allah, too" statement at which Sharon's government excels.

By most analyses, I must assume things are unlikely to improve in the oppression-death-and-terrorism vector. When I meet new people, they ask, “you came here? But you're not even Jewish.” At least the weather is nice; I escaped a brutal East Coast heat wave and the filthy rotten-garbage funk of my part of Brooklyn. And I want to be here. And nowhere else will they pay me to create XML data structures for knowledge representation with applications to the characterization of information agents. And that's what I really want to do, more than anything else, so I gladly trade the miniscule risks of a little war in the not-so-distance for a lot of knowledge and clever co-workers, and it seems fair.

There are a billion other details of right now, and a trillion moments from the last year to describe, but why wear out the moment? What can I say? There are two wood-and-wool sheep in the window of this office area, left here by - who? - with fluffy bodies and stick-on eyes. My hair is cropped close, and I have a widow's peak. I am again single, which is great, because I get to go out and smooch without having to go to family events or discuss what came up in therapy. I was out with one woman. I don't know her well, but I like her greatly; she is curved and sharp together. We were getting along well, and doing stuff, and so we talked about whether we should try to freeze the moment, anchor the time we spent together in some construct with rules and limits. She said, “holding me right now would be like holding smoke in a box.” Which sounded good - not the holding, but the smoke; I like the thought of being a puff, a gray shimmer exhaled before closing, inhaled by all the other patrons, mingling, dissipating, drifting. For the first time in years of being too solid - meaning thick, wanting my body to melt - I was a puff of smoke, a little cloud, uncondensed, having fun.

In late May I made some phone calls to my mother and grandmother, worked out some old family problems, the kind that it's better to skip over unless I want to lapse into a Proustian, novel-length digression that would bore all but the most sensation-deprived. But my mother and grandmother were patient, gave me good information, expressed kind love, and in consequence I shrugged off a yoke of guilt as heavy as the oceans. Well, not that heavy.

Right then - this is in late June, suddenly without a yoke as heavy as the oceans, as a puff of smoke drifting around Manhattan, with no one to take care of and no desire to be desired for more than a few times a month, but still dependent on public transit, something opened up in my brain, some membrane evaporated from my skull, and I began to get giddy on language. The Ftrain would sail into Smith & 9th St. stop, and I would begin to list S words - subway, snake, slither, slink, sliding a slow creeping slide into the station, brakeman stopping, slamming, the brakes screeching, the steady rock of the rails, the press of brown and pink bodies, women with mouths like hot peppers, Black men in translucent blue muscle shirts with brown arms, a fraternity brand below the right shoulder. A drooling pup in Bryant Park leaping into the arms of its owner, a short-haired woman in a matte-black dress. The entirety of New York became a rambling, discontinous narrative, the skyscrapers piles of books, text sparking off the concrete and asphalt and flying straight through my eyes and ears, touching the receptors, puncturing some inner membrane and sinking into tiny neuronal clusters, each word spinning against the other like a gear, working together to maximize linguistic torque, producing an idiolectic champagne-and-cigar high. In this state I walked all over the city, alone, across the bridge and down to the Staten Island Ferry, and with friends, over the same lines, stopping in bars and restaurants, spending too much, knowing I was soon to leave, and life for a few weeks was an open-mouthed kiss.

So all that happened, and in just a few months. Of course, there is much I didn't do. I didn't write a novel, even though I had the time and the right contacts - possibly - to get it sold. I did not take my social responsibility as seriously as I should have; I should have given away more time, made myself more useful to those without resources or power. I didn't slim down noticeably, or stop eating meat; I did not find a schedule and stick to it, and I worked less than I should have, slept more than I needed. Perhaps this year, I will repair these bad habits and correct my path, uncover some hidden ability unrealized. But probably not; each year proves further that I am more made of habit than potential.

Tomorrow, I will go out in Tel Aviv for a few drinks to mark the day, with new friends. In October I will go to London, then back to Brooklyn - and then? Back to Israel? Some other trip? Or a return to puttering? Regardless, this is what I wanted for myself; I think this is the life I'd choose if you gave me a list of lives and a number 2 pencil. After tomorrow, I will keep up my drift, living in 3-month blocks, staying smoke, until I find something, or someone, of such magnetic pull that I cannot be pulled away, something that condenses my disparate atoms into a cloud, so that I can rain back to the pavement.

Basically, I suck.
Tuesday, August 28, 2001
Voices, and sounds, and sleeping.
Monday, September 3, 2001
“500,000 Kilowatts of Stardust”
Gene, Debbie, and Donald teach me about art
Tuesday, September 4, 2001




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About the author: I've been running this website from 1997. For a living I write stories and essays, program computers, edit things, and help people launch online publications. (LinkedIn). I wrote a novel. I was an editor at Harper's Magazine for five years; then I was a Contributing Editor; now I am a free agent. I was also on NPR's All Things Considered for a while. I still write for The Morning News, and some other places.

If you have any questions for me, I am very accessible by email. You can email me at ford@ftrain.com and ask me things and I will try to answer. Especially if you want to clarify something or write something critical. I am glad to clarify things so that you can disagree more effectively.


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© 1974-2011 Paul Ford


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