by David Schneider
I'm hunting for an apartment in Brooklyn. It's 2010. I only halfknow the borough; it's hipster havens and borderlands, vacant lots and lofts, new towers and old clapboard – a shredded psychogeography re-folding itself every second, like hyperactive origami.
I take CraigsList to the GoogleMap, stroll a StreetView to the Subway, and race a grey L to a green 6 or brown Jay-Z. Time the walk. Time the trains. Recalc the time –– rush hour, late night –– recalc revised (the new service cuts) –– rush shower, late tight –– and is there a supermarket? A laundromat? Rats, mice, bedbugs, pricepoint? What if the…what if the…what if the roof –– the electric –– the piano up the stairs?
Down to Brooklyn and up the stairs. Down the stairs, out of Brooklyn, sit. Scribble out. Redraw. There's got to be a better way.
The roadmap for Middle-East peace lies crumpled on the floor, an accordion with a compound fracture. Can't anyone fold this damn thing? It's an origami in the shape of a dove. Special Envoy George Mitchell is a courier, shuttling messages back and forth down the 20-mile road from Jerusalem to Ramallah and back again. The origami master is named Möbius of Zeno.
I want to install a CraigsList app on my iPhone so I can get the jump on new Brooklyn apartment listings while mobile. I download the iOS4 app but I don't have iOS4 yet so I've got to download that. But first I need iTunes 9.2 to get iOS4. The download for iOS4 says, “It'll take an hour. Don't interrupt.” My ISP enjoys interrupting me. The pulsing blue bar ticks down to 11 minutes and stops. I have to start from the beginning. The process ends up taking a day and a half. The CraigsList app doesn't work anyway. I rename my iPhone “Zeno.”
I'm rewriting my résumé for the 12th time in six months. As I click homeward to collect the mail, three Yahoos are gibbering through the window, regarding me with expert eyes. One suggests, “Don't use deadening phrases and jargon! Make your résumé unique!” A second admonishes, “Make sure you use common keywords, or the computers will sift you out.” The third waggles its finger, “Here are ten things that will make sure your résumé is never even looked at.” If I had a job I'd hire a résumé writer, I think; I procrastinate the twelfth redraw of selfmap by scanning the opportunities at Catch-22 Incorporated. I think of Dante, in the middle road of life, in that dark wood.
At the Front Room Gallery, near Brooklyn's Hope Street, I encounter the work of Patricia Smith. She draws symbolic maps of interior consciousness, stylized like 18th-century explorers' maps, or of dissected organs and nervous systems discovered, but censored, from Vesalius's Anatomy. Her “Plot Plan for an Ideal City of One” is folded up like a Triple-A roadmap; it is delicate, it must be opened carefully on both axes, so as not to tear –– though it is manageable when helped by a second pair of hands.
I imagine George Mitchell, Special U.S. Envoy for Middle East Peace, shuttling between Jerusalem and Ramallah. I imagine him asking first Abbas, then Netanyahu, for help in unfolding the maps of themselves, those crumpled lines.
The rooms are maps of ourselves, my one and lover. And “an entire past comes to dwell in a new house,” writes Bachelard. Well, it's not a house, it's an apartment, but it's the best a Brooklynite can do. The realtors are kind and quick: the economy has ground to a halt, and people don't move as much. We shuffle through angles of space, blank canvases. This is uncharted territory. Neither of us wants the realtor to know that we don't know that we don’t know what we want.
I overlay: seven, eight maps a day, maps of interior spaces. Of our spaces, and our interior spaces, innumerable. On the candy-colored knot of the Subway map, the L Train tongues its way into the Brooklyn burrow, slashed by the manically angled streets. We are off the grid.
There are no maps in the future. Our cartographers circumscribe a flat world, misperceive a cliff as Finisterre. “Here be Monsters!” they scrawl upon the sea. So we retreat to the familiar maps of a mythical age, imperfectly drawn.
We redraw the past to fit our maps. Ground zero is a hole as big as a country, and we have failed to fill it fast enough. No one deserves a handout and pull your own bootstraps. Usurper! That's our land! No one likes to be colonized, say the ghosts of Little Syria.
There are too many holes in the ground. We keep digging. Maybe we'll reach China?
On my wall, above my desk, is an image of Simon Patterson's “The Great Bear,” a subtly maddening 1992 work in which the London Tube map's stations have all been replaced with the names of comedians, artists, philosophers, and a gaullimaufry of celebrities, politicians and saints. Leonardo da Vinci stands in for Highbury; the Monument stop becomes Epicurus. But we'd be laughed at for trying to find meaning in the overlay; Patterson has written a system guided by its own fallible and obscure logic, and it's up to us to navigate our own route from, say, Immanuel Kant to Neil Armstrong. Change at Titian and Gary Lineker? Or should we take the Circle Line to Pythagoras?
The past of the mind is an empire. It is a great weight to bear.
We uprooted and transplanted, heliotropically, and America turned southerly. And a plantation is a mansion that makes money. “The house shelters dreaming,” Bachelard wrote, “the house protects the dreamer.” The dream was “The American Dream,” given on loan.
“They” took my dream away! “They” took our dream away! “They” took the American Dream away from me! It's always Them.
In Dixieland I'll take my stand to live and die in Dixie. Look homeward, angel. No, you can't go home again.
rather not go
to the old house
I'm in Pete's Tavern in the East Village. Workingman's pub in the day. A construction worker is talking to the bartender. “So I need this additional thingamabob to make my DVD player play Blu-Ray discs!” The bartender replies, “It's impossible to keep up.” I chime in, mention the software gap. Every new technology is its own map. Every update changes the map.
Subway Map 3.2 overlay: GoogleMap overlay: topographical – high and low points PULLDOWN MENU: bars, restaurants, galleries, fruitstore meatstore fishstore.
We drive through Brooklyn. Black and white bands of one-way streets, angling in laws of their own, governed by no compass.
“You have to know the street,” I say.
“I like a dirty girl / that drinks up what I'm serving,” says a rapper, on a car stereo passing by.
I walk up Jefferson Street in Brooklyn. Salsa music is blasting from a first-floor apartment, and kids are screaming, playing, rolling scooters down the sidewalk. It's a neighborhood – I mean a neighborhood, charcoal grills on the curb, everyone knows one another, everyone's friendly in Spanish.
I say hello and hello. That's what Usain Bolt was taught. “You've got to tell everybody good morning. Everybody. You can't miss one person.” I know the word on the air.
“I used to live right there,” says an old man to his friend, ricketying his way down the street in shorts and sandals and a cane, flapping his Puerto Rico t-shirt over his bare shoulder. “We used to have parties forever, man, no one could tell us what do do.”
Sez his friend: “The neighborhoods, they're always changing.”
Usain Bolt runs very fast.
The furniture upon the floorplan upon the block upon the 'hood upon the subway upon the commute upon the city upon the work upon the mapping, the mapping, the remapping. Look homeward you cannot look home. The past is a different country.
How could we not go mad?
“I'm lost,” you say. “I only know the neighborhood while driving.”
“Yeah,” I say, “the streets go both ways when you're walking.”