Saturday, July 11, 2009

When we are looking

But here’s what it is about these photos from 1988: I look tiny, my face all hollowed out whereas somehow in 1987 my face looks fuller, my expression more convincing. But let’s go back to 1983, this time I’m wearing the blue and red striped Alligator t-shirt, you see we didn’t call it Izod, and some kind of navy denim-type pants, I remember those from sixth grade and that bathroom at recess where I could hear people playing outside, the smell of institutional piss surrounding me -- this was a building my school rented, just for the sixth grade, so we were almost on our own. Behind the sports fields stood the Psychiatric Institute -- that’s where girls got sent for anorexia, came back tougher and sadder and more worldly. Sometimes I felt jealous.

Anyway, of course my belt is pulled around my waist as tightly as possible and somehow there’s a duffel bag suspended from my shoulder, behind me there’s a view. I don’t know where this is, so much green it’s hard to say. This time I’m squinting because of the sun and my lips are turned to one side like I’m crying without crying, maybe that’s what it felt like. But another picture with the same outfit, this time I’m on the New York subway, it’s one of the trips when my father and I went to New York with Don and Steve Daniels. The subway was one of my favorite places, here Don is looking pensive into the distance, Steve looks vaguely into the camera and I looked skittishly past my father, my head on my body like I’m some kind of doll, the kind you don’t give your kids because they might learn something.

But what was I learning? I loved the buildings, the taller the better -- it didn’t matter if my ears popped, as long as I could look down at everything: this is where I will eventually escape to. I loved walking out onto the street in front of the hotel and going into a corner store with all the hot food laid out on tables, sometimes this is what I would do with Steve when our fathers went drinking. We took the subway everywhere and I studied the neighborhoods: this one is run-down but filled with excitement, that one looks scary, this one has so many trees it’s not even like New York -- the end of the line was my favorite place, just because that meant we got to ride all the way back. Even better would be an empty subway car from Coney Island when Steve and I would flow between the poles in the center, trying to stand up. In New York, everything was an adventure. Even the zoo was bigger. But the only time in these pictures when my face softens is when I’m feeding animals -- here a goat eats out of my hand and I’m studying it so closely it’s like there’s no one else there and that means maybe me.

But wait -- here’s 1986, and I’m feeding the pigeons in some square, where did I get this tiny cup for them to eat directly from, squatting on the sidewalk in shorts and that same red and blue striped shirt I’m leaning towards my new friend while trying to stay balanced on my shoes, I didn’t want my knees to get dirty. I’m confused about this picture, because I look the same as 1985 but in my memory by the time of my bar mitzvah I’d already rejected the bowl cut in favor of my hair swept back. Wasn’t my bar mitzvah in 1986? I guess it seems silly for such a ritual to mark any actual transition, but somehow I think it did land in that place. Maybe this photo was developed later than its actual date: where is history when we are looking?

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