We recorded forty-five-minute conversations for thirty straight days around New York City. Half these talks took place at a Union Square health-food store which, for legal reasons, we call “W.F.” Other locations included MoMA‚ the Metropolitan Museum of Art‚ the Metropolitan Opera House‚ Central Park‚ Prospect Park‚ and a Tribeca parking garage. Here’s an excerpt from a conversation in which our friend Stephen joined us.
6:18 p.m. Sunday‚ January 1
Union Square W.F.
A: I feel the daily desire for release from concentration then a return to whatever you call it—intensity.
J: A return made pleasurable by the departure.
A: I can repeat this cycle endlessly.
J: It’s a fine way to look at our lives and live: in ceaseless oscillation. Stephen we talked last night about Emerson’s essay “Spiritual Laws.”
S: Yeah I thought of . . . I’d wanted to mention . . .
J: Do you remember how how Emerson calls himself both a god and a weed by the wall‚ to express his polarity? He he he senses genius . . .
A: Oh I wouldn’t interrupt but that child has his pants down (you missed it already).
J: Did he make a mess in his shorts?
A: Not sure.
J: If he’d made a mess we’d hear him crying.
A: I think he had on thong underwear.
J: Perhaps one special . . .
A: Check out those red cheeks.
J: He does have rosy cheeks. Now he clings to his mother. I’d cling too—she’s a . . .
A: Go ahead‚ Jonny. Didn’t want to miss . . .
J: No that brief interruption provides a perfect instance of polarity. One moment I recall Emerson‚ feeling lofty like a divine being‚ but the next I become a weed along a wall lusting after this young boy’s mother. Within seconds I revealed my capacity for flux.
S: Emerson’s piece impressed me most for his notion that we’ll gain more when . . .
J: [Muffled] dogs could visit W.F.
A: Oh wow.
J: Sorry I shouldn’t cut you off Stephen. But a boy‚ who may or may not have soiled his shorts‚ hangs on the verge of crying‚ while nearby sits the . . . what kind of dog? A terrier?
A: I’ll love how they look working-class: the whiskers.
J: As if sloshing through Manchester puddles right?
A: I could never distrust a terrier.
J: No‚ me neither. And that’s a fine working-class turtleneck sweater he’s wearing.
J: A good pup. Store rules prevent him from touching the floor‚ to keep this a sterile hygienic environment‚ but I like how security guards just passed not ordering the dog outside.
A: I recently dropped a bagel in this sterile hygienic environment‚ then ate it‚ then panicked three days. No sickness came‚ which suggests how clean . . .
J: Still you may want to get . . .
S: Three days? You’re not joking?
J: How long did the bagel lie there?
A: I’d invoked the three-second rule yet it took longer—this bagel slid. So Stephen you‚ sorry‚ you’d brought up . . .
S: Yeah but but I’m shocked you had three days’ thoughts about the bagel.
A: I probably thought about it six times for half a second then it left my mind.
S: I’ll get distracting paranoias that pass.
J: Will you ever think‚ Stephen‚ someone maybe stole your bicycle?
S: From . . .
J: Or slashed both tires as . . .
S: Right‚ right.
J: a senseless prank?
S: Each time I pass the bike I’ll press its back tire to . . .
S: At first I’d felt anxiety when I came out in the morning. Now I’m confident about a corner on Avenue C.
J: Yeah. What a great spot. It protects your bike during rain showers. Where exactly do you park? Outside a community center—or is that a community hospital?
S: That’s the Ryan Nena Health Center. Though I don’t lock under awnings any more. I’ve moved to the the side.
J: Did workers tell you . . .
S: No‚ but they clipped through during . . .
J: They clipped your lock?
S: a recent storm.
J: So your bike just sat there?
S: For the second time this month I stepped out to see the bike not where I’d left it‚ only to walk a few paces onward into my um dreary day then find it leaning against the health center.
A: I’ve once‚ yeah‚ once I weeks later found my bike locked to a grocery store‚ after thinking somebody stole it.
J: And once I had a bike stolen in Cambridge Massachusetts but recovered it that evening. A woman sat on the bench of neighborhood drunks in Central Square. She smelled of vodka and my bike lay next to her. I said‚ I’m taking my bike back. She said That belongs to my brother. I said You’re drunk. And I took the bike. This followed a jog through streets during which I’d tried to find it.
A: I saw Jon jog around for his bike. The entire story’s accurate.